Scott Woods Biography
Wrote Poetry in High School, Encountered Slam, Composed and Produced Electronica, Selected works
Scott Woods, a prolific author and editor of more then ten volumes of poetry and prose and the producer of numerous spoken-word and music CDs, is especially well known for slam poetry. He first discovered slam poetry in 1998, and by 2002 he was on the Executive Council of Poetry Slam, Inc. (PSI), a non-profit organization that oversees the National Poetry Slam—North America's largest spoken-word event. In 2005 Woods became president of PSI. Slams are poetry competitions in which both the poems and the delivery are scored. Woods told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB) in 2005 that slam was "the most significant change in poetry in the last 30-40 years."
Based in Columbus, Ohio, Woods has performed his poetry and music in various venues, with an assortment of accompaniments. He was the founder and host of the Writers' Block reading series in Columbus. As an "underground" musician, Woods has produced and performed his electronic music under both his own name and various pseudonyms including "breath."
Wrote Poetry in High School
Born on January 25, 1971, in Barksdale, Louisiana, Scott Edmund Woods and his three brothers were raised by their mother, Gloria Woods, in Columbus, Ohio. In "The Scarring" Woods wrote: "My mother scarred me with high art." Scott studied piano and played with his high school band and choir. His high school trio—Scott on keyboards, his music teacher on saxophone, and a drummer—played at Friday-night basketball games.
Woods told CBB that he had known since childhood that he wanted to be both a writer and musician so that he could choose from different artistic formats to tell a particular story. He spent much of high school and college writing fiction, poetry, and screenplays, although as an adult he focused his efforts on poetry.
After dropping out of college, Scott went to work at the Columbus Metropolitan Library. The library management supported his artistic endeavors and allowed him to travel to poetry readings and slams. As of 2005 he had worked there for some 13 years, taking 2001 off to pursue full-time writing.
Woods self-published most of his early works in bootleg editions. Since he refused to reprint them, they became local collectables. In 1996 Scott founded the poetry performance group The Black Air Poets. Originally the group featured Woods performing his poetry with various musicians and disc jockeys. The group went through numerous transformations, attracting jazz, rock, and gospel musicians. Scott organized the Onyx Lounge, a Columbus showcase for progressive black musicians, poets, and visual artists. By 1998 he was emceeing a local open-mic program that eventually grew into the Writers' Block reading series.
In 1998 Woods discovered an on-line poetry community that frequently discussed slam. Watching the documentary Slam Nation, he heard excellent poetry presented as entertainment. Slam poets compete in elimination rounds, performing poetry with a three-minute limit. The judges, sometimes chosen at random from the audience, score the poems and performances on a one-to-ten scale. Woods introduced slam to Columbus, serving as regular emcee of the Writer's Slam Poetry Night. He was a popular host, known for involving newcomers into the fun. He was a member and coach of most Columbus slam teams. In 2001 the Columbus Slam Team won first place at the Rust Belt Regionals and competed in its first National Poetry Slam (NPS). As president of PSI and a member of the Columbus National Slam Team, Woods presided over the 15th NPS, a weeklong event that included some 300 poets performing before an audience of thousands. Woods also competed in the 2005 Individual World Poetry Slam.
Woods told Josh White of Columbus Alive in December of 2003: "Slam is a gimmick. It has always been a gimmick. It is supposed to be this fun thing that people see that compels them to come out and hear poetry. It's not really supposed to be a competition…. It was created to counter what was perceived as the elitism in some poetry and its avenues, where overly academic, stiff readings interested no one in poetry, left dust on books, and left volumes at the library totally unused."
Slam poetry has to be accessible and audience appropriate. Woods told CBB that writing for slams opened him to a much broader range of themes and styles, far beyond his earlier black love poetry. His work became funnier, more political, and more powerful, while continuing to tell stories that were sometimes quite personal. Woods's involvement with slams and PSI brought him a degree of fame. He read on National Public Radio's Day to Day and began working with Wordsmith Press.
Woods's poem honoring his grandmothers opens: "Scientists say/that time travel is impossible;/that when a moment in time passes,/it is forever lost/to the void of space.//I imagine that scientists do not have grandmothers./Or, at the very least, do not see them very often." The poem concludes: "Grandmothers are traveling time in cosmic house slippers/and stellar-guided church hats/while sitting at family dinner tables,/flashing old, knowing winks at wild grandchildren/while adults argue about the game on TV/or needing new jobs…."
Composed and Produced Electronica
Woods's early recordings were limited-release CDs. He had founded Black Air Press as a distribution service and in 2000 added a music label, Black Air Press Music (BAPM). Woods explained to CBB why he created breath and other pseudonyms: "I've always felt that people would judge my music based on how much they like my poetry, which is to say they might not take the music on its own merits … To that end, I created a number of personas-to date, about 13-each with a distinctive flavor or sound palette. As it turns out, I sell my music and poetry at about the same rate, depending on how many live dates I do. Most people don't know I do music, but almost no one who knows my music knows about my poetry."
Although Woods played jazz piano with the Black Air Poets, most of his music has been electronic, composed and produced on his home computer. Although two of his CDs are drum-n-bass, Woods has worked primarily in the musical genre known as downtempo, also called ambient or mood music. Woods wrote on the BAPM Web site: "I've always thought the best music usually went unheard. The music that comes out of this company tends to prove that more and more with each record we put out…. I always want to be giving people more than their money's worth. I always want to be giving them flat-out art. Nothing disposable."
Woods has written plays and screenplays and, as of 2005, had several novels in progress. He told CBB: "I love writing fiction, but with my schedule and procrastination habits, it's a challenge…. I just keep reading other people's stuff on the fly and praying for osmosis to kick in." But Woods was far from idle; at the same time he was completing two new music CDs, as well as a full-length poetry collection for Pudding House.
Woods has been active on the Internet. His on-line writings have included poems, short stories, essays, criticism, and reviews. On his Library of Wings Web site Woods has presented works-in-progress, including editing and rewrites. He founded The Greatest Slow Jam Ever music Web site. In his December 3, 1999, Internet journal entry, "Jimi, Prince & Immortality," Woods confessed his hopes for his own work, writing: "I want to do to words what Jimi [Hendrix] did to guitars and music./I want people to hope I write forever./Just a thought."
Can You Hear Me Now? Wordsmith Press, 2002.
(Editor) Freedom to Speak: The 2002 National Poetry Slam, Wordsmith Press, 2003.
The Kerfuffle Incident (anthology), Wordsmith Press, 2003.
Off the Mic: Ann Arbor Poetry Slam Anthology, Wordsmith Press, 2003.
(Co-editor) Poems from the Big Muddy: The 2004 National Poetry Slam, Wordsmith Press, 2005.
(With various artists) Gladiator Poetry Night Highlights, Volume 1, BAPM, 2001.
(With Black Air Poets) Touch, BAPM, 2001.
Live and Suspect, BAPM, 2002.
You Belong: Love Poems, BAPM, 2003.
Journals: A Story in Aural Cacophony, BAPM, 2000.
(As breath) Exhale, BAPM, 2001.
(As breath) Slow Down, BAPM, 2001.
(As breath) Albert Einstein's Slow Jam Tape, BAPM, 2002.
(With various artists) breath presents Setting Slow, BAPM, 2002.
(As Ispee Luscious) Something Prettier, BAPM, 2003.
You Belong: Remixes & Instrumentals, BAPM, 2003.
The Black Air Experience, www.blackair.coolfreepages.com/index.html.
"breath, Exhale," CD Baby, http://cdbaby.com/cd/breath?cdbaby=9a8648fb03803660368bcf83a53ccc03.
"Breath's Gallery," CD Baby, http://cdbaby.com/group/breath.
"December 3, 1999 'Jimi, Prince & Immortality,'" December Journal, www.wideopenwest.com/∼efavers0976/decjournal.html.
"Fifty Mistakes Poets Make," The Wordsmith Press, www.thewordsmithpress.com/content/article.php?article=29.
The Greatest Slow Jam Ever, www.wideopenwest.com/∼efavers0976/SLOWJAM.htm.
"Learning Golf from the Top Down: The 2004 Ryder Cup from the Couch of a First-Time Viewer," Loupe Online, www.loupeonline.com/articles/09-04/woods-golf.htm.
Library of Winds, www.blackair.coolfreepages.com/bae0002libraryofwindsintro.htm.
"The Scarring," Black Air, http://www.blackair.coolfreepages.com/ESSAY_Scarring.html.
"The Science of Grandmothers," The Poem Archives, www.blackair.coolfreepages.com/PoemScienceGrandmothers.html.
"Scott Woods," Live Journal, www.livejournal.com/users/scottwoods/.
Columbus Alive (Columbus, OH), March 8, 2001, p. 19; December 11, 2003, p. 31.
"December 3, 1999 'Jimi, Prince & Immortality,'" December Journal, www.wideopenwest.com/∼efavers0976/decjournal.html (September 8, 2005).
"Mission," Black Air Press Music, www.blackair.coolfreepages.com/BAPM_Mission.htm (September 8, 2005).
"Poetry & Music: Melding the Two," Editorials & Essays, The Black Air Experience, www.blackair.coolfreepages.com/ESSAY_PoetryMusic.html (September 5, 2005).
"Scott Woods," The Black Air Experience, www.blackair.coolfreepages.com/BioScott.html (September 8, 2005).
"Scott Woods," Live Journal, www.livejournal.com/users/scottwoods/ (September 8, 2005).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Scott Woods on October 11, 2005.
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