Ruta Smith

Joey Tucker’s path to poetry started in college. Enrolled in a creative writing course, Tucker admits that he chose a writing genre that he thought required the least amount of effort. “I thought I wouldn’t have to write essays and term papers, so why not try poetry,” he says.

Turns out, he was pretty good at it. And he quickly realized that poetry, whether written for a passing grade or not, could be cathartic. “I did a little bit of exposing some stuff,” says Tucker of those early college poems. He started getting personal in his work, writing about his relationship with his father and breakups with girlfriends. “I would write myself out of a bad situation or feeling,” he says.

Today, Tucker is a fifth-grade language arts teacher, teaching kids how to use language to express themselves. When he’s not teaching, he’s performing poetry at open mics under the moniker Mr. Enlightenment. Tucker’s got merchandise to flaunt his creativity, too, with T-shirts that read “Thomas Edison is my homeboy,” and a logo that bears a lightbulb, naturally.

Tucker says that his poetry covers topics from everyday life to current events to something he may have seen on social media. He credits Facebook and Instagram for helping him get the word out about his poetry and for connecting him with like-minded wordsmiths. He really flexes his creative muscles on Twitter, though, where a few years ago he inadvertently got into micro poetry.

Fitting poems into 140 characters came as a welcome challenge to Tucker. “People have short attention spans anyway,” says Tucker, “So if you can squeeze a big idea into a short poem that’s even more impressive.”

Tucker released his first collection of poetry, Walletz & Pursez in 2009. “I didn’t go through anybody fancy,” he says. “I stapled together a few copies and decided to sell it, and it did pretty well.” His second collection, L.I.G.H.T., did well too, and since then he has also released two poetry CDs, Worth My Weight In Watts, and Summer Soulstice.

He’s found success on the open mic and poetry event circuit in the same kind of homegrown, grassroots way, by creating relationships with local poets like Marcus Amaker, who has helped him find opportunities around town. For Tucker, filling a concert hall with guests is not his idea of being a successful poet. He notes that the best poetry events in town take place in smaller, intimate settings. “You don’t want a screaming, large crowd,” he says.

Tucker planned to host a solo show, The Light Show, at Summerville’s Homegrown Brewhouse on Sat. March 21. While the show has been postponed due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the feedback ahead of time was promising. He was already having a problem with the crowd — one that his friends assured him was a good problem to have. Put simply, too many people wanted to come. You can stay up-to-date with any openings by following his page,

Does a sold-out show mean that Tucker is well on his way to being a full-time poet? Not quite. “It’s a grind,” he says of writing to pay the bills. He’ll keep teaching for now, which allows him to use his free summer months to travel to other cities and spread the word of his poetry in spots like Greenville, Charlotte, and Savannah.

He considers his poetry gigs, at least the ones that pay, as supplementary income. And, as he has for a while now, Tucker considers poetry a necessary outlet for making sense of his life.

He mentions a college professor and how they clashed about what kind of poetry style worked best — the professor had guidelines and rules while Tucker likes to create his poems more freestyle. “He didn’t always think my stuff was great, but that’s how I put it together,” says Tucker. “That’s what I love about poetry — you can’t tell me it’s wrong.”

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