When Matt Foley started organizing poetry slams and performances with local poetry group The Unspoken Word a few years ago, it was tough to fill seats. You need at least five people in the audience (who aren’t performers) to serve as judges, Foley says, and there were times when they had to cancel a slam due to low attendance. These days, Foley and his crew, which includes Charleston’s first ever poet laureate Marcus Amaker and author Derek Berry, have no trouble drawing crowds at Elliotborough Mini Bar, PURE Theatre, Eclectic Cafe & Vinyl, and Harold’s Cabin for their events.
Though Foley didn’t always consider poetry a career, his history with the craft runs deep. Growing up in Columbia, he says he found himself listening to bands like Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Pearl Jam in order to deal with tough issues in his life. He fantasized about being a rock star. “Unfortunately for me, I discovered that I had no musical talent whatsoever,” Foley says. “My dreams of being in a band were sadly crushed.” But he realized that if you took the melody away, song lyrics were really just poems. So he started writing said poems when he was 15 and hasn’t stopped since.
Still, Foley didn’t exactly plan on becoming a poet. He graduated from the College of Charleston in 2008 with an English degree, which he used to start a career teaching English in Charleston County. Currently he teaches high school English at the Charleston County School of the Arts, where he also holds various youth writing and poetry workshops to help creative-minded students develop their talents.
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