Spit It Out

Spit It Out

B aub Bidon believes there’s a gap between “the young and the wise generations.” The latter, he says, looks at the former and thinks, “‘These kids are bad these days,’” while the former looks at the latter and thinks, “‘Old people don’t understand us. They’ve never been where I’ve been.’” What’s needed, thinks Bidon, is a place where the two can come together and exchange ideas—a place he hopes his monthly, 12-year-old, open-mic poetry program, Free 2 Spit, provides.

Bidon, who’s himself moving into the wise generation, says he remembers what it was like being young, including the difficult lessons he had to learn. At the age of 10, while walking out of Pegnataro’s Super Food Store on Ferry Street, he and his friends were stopped and asked if they’d stolen anything. Just as Bidon was pleading innocent, the bag of cashews he’d lifted fell out through the hole in his coat pocket.

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His friends ran, but Bidon didn’t move. The police, then his family, were called. One of Bidon’s older brothers, Jean, arrived, lifted him on his shoulder and carried him the entire way home. When his mother, Maud, arrived, she pulled out an electric trimmer, cut off his afro and sent him to school the next day completely bald.

Bidon, who today wears a bushel of dreads that runs down to his waist, still winces when telling the story. But that was just the beginning. Mom, a Haitian immigrant, feared America was spoiling the 8th child of the family and the first to be born in America. Taking the pistachio incident as a sign, she sent Bidon to live with his uncle in Haiti, hoping he would learn some discipline.

Sending your child out of the country over a bag of nuts might seem harsh to most of us. But Bidon thinks it was the right call. “I’ll be honest with you,” he says. “I feel like it saved my life.”

Bidon got a crash course in discipline, the island way. While his friends in New Haven were stealing clothes through the factory roof of the Starter sportswear corporation and generally getting into “knucklehead stuff,” Bidon was down in Haiti learning to juggle a soccer ball by practicing on an avocado. He spent three humbling years there, learning to respect his elders but also to rely on himself. He also worked up the ability to juggle an avocado fifty times in a row—discipline if I’ve ever seen it.

When Bidon came back to the states, hip-hop culture was booming, and he dedicated his newfound discipline to freestyling. The sense of rhyme and rhythm he developed by battling on street corners was later turned towards his current passion, and Free 2 Spit’s focus: spoken-word poetry.

Bidon began Free 2 Spit around 2004, at the tail end of what he says was a five-year “renaissance” of spoken-word in New Haven. But Bidon wanted to keep it alive. F2S would move from venue to venue until, on the Friday after Obama was elected president in 2008, Free 2 Spit had its first performance at the New Haven People’s Center, its home ever since.

Today, the open mic is still going strong, supported by volunteers and $6 donations at the door, which go towards bringing in a new featured poet every month. The night I attended, poetic content ranged from a bad pharmacy experience to repressed sexual abuse to Bidon’s own rendition of the sacredness of women, which he prefaced with his own belief that God—or “the most high”—is a She, not a He.

That night, there was an extraordinary abundance of Haitian Creole in the air, in addition to the regular banter between Bidon and his Haitian mix master, DJ 8-Double-0. The featured poet for the night, Danielle Colin, is of Haitian descent, and the book of poetry she read was titled Dreaming in Kreyol.

When Colin got up to perform, she began by setting the scene: “I want to take you on a trip to Haiti. It’s hot, it’s nighttime, my grandmother’s ghost is sitting on the porch. She’s singing—” Then Colin sang—a ghostly, pathos-filled Creole tune that led to a series of poems about the strengths and tragedies of Haiti, with both generations in the room, the young and the wise, paying rapt attention.

Free 2 Spit
New Haven People’s Center – 37 Howe St, New Haven (map)
7-10pm every first Friday of the month, skipping January
(203) 493-1463
www.facebook.com/free2spit

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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Daniel is an aspiring novelist. He owns a Yale sweater he will never wear and takes his Faulkner with vermouth and his vermouth with an orange wedge. An avid traveler and retired hooligan, he was kicked out of the largest club in Africa for breakdancing, joined an Andalusian metal band and, while in Istanbul, learned to read the future in his coffee grinds. Despite the omens he finds at the bottom of his morning joe, Daniel continues to write.

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