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Posted by : cj on Tuesday, June 17, 2008 - 12:42 AM
Poetry Gossip: Click On Headlines .
Note: Mental Graffiti has moved next door to Butterfly Social Club, 728 W Grand Ave # 1, doors @ 7:30, show @ 8:00, still on third Monday of the Month.

Spoken Word Is Alive At The Funky Buddha Lounge

On Monday, June 16, 2008, I ventured out to experience the Mental Graffiti spoken word jam, which is one of the longest running poetry slam venues in the city of Chicago. For the past three years the event has been happening on the third Monday of every month at one of the hippest lounges in the city, the Funky Buddha at 728 W. Grand Ave. The poetry happens on a stage with professional lighting and the audience has the choice of sitting on the couches in the "V.I.P. section" or taking a table in the "dog pound". The walls are painted with psychedelic art and the joint makes you want to fire up some incense. Funky Buddha is right around the corner from the Blue Line Grand stop so there's no problem getting there.

Joel Chmara (who I hear is getting married soon!) is one of the most gracious poetry hosts in town. You can tell he loves what he's doing and his vigor is contagious. His energy is accentuated by the bizarre dj-ing of Tim Stafford, who might blast Iron Maiden one minute and Daft Punk the next. This dynamic duo does their best to make poetry fun, and I gotta tell ya, they do a damn good job of it.

The Mental Graffiti open mic. proved to be the liveliest poetry reading I've experienced so far this century. The Weeds venue has not cornered the market on spoken word bartenders, as Mondo proved with his rap that didn't miss a beat. Nick Fox amazed us by reciting, from memory, a poem about dinosaurs that his friend wrote. Chase showed his passion and vulnerability with his highly charged performance poem: "There are over six billion walking mirrors in this world / and you chose this reflection." The vibes and the message were positive, especially when Butta encouraged poets to talk about something other than themselves. The upbeat tone of Mental Graffiti was extremely refreshing.

A Green Mill regular named Chinarlie cracked the house up with his hilarious rhyming verse, and then the crowd got down with the nitty-gritty as "rookie of the year" Tristin Silverman" shared a whiplash run on sentence style and Christian's voice spoke like a dj scratching a record. Next, four time slam team member Molly Meachum performed an expertly crafted poem written in a southern voice. Brandi Madrid sang a song and then Dan Sully told a story about being in grade school and having to deal with the "parental paparazzi". Slam champ Billy Tuggle (who I hear is now engaged to be married!) also shared some words.

One of the reasons this open mic was so enjoyable was that the performers had a keen sense of timing. So many poets at other venues think that being on stage is about them, as they bleed their slot for everything it's worth, sometimes doing three or four poems. But the poets at Mental Graffiti understand that they are performing for an audience, as they get up, slam dunk their best piece, and then humbly offer the stage to the next poet, allowing for a variety of voices in a fast paced show.

The featured artist for the evening was "the prodigal son", Bonafide Rojas, author of Pelo Bueno: A Day in the Life of a Nuyorican Poet (Dark Souls Press, 2004). His work can also be found in Bum Rush the Page: a Def Poetry Jam (Three Rivers Press, 2002) and in RoleCall (Third World Press, 2002), and he can be heard on the spoken word CD Nuyorican Dreams. It was a pleasure to see Bonafide read. Although he now lives in New York, he is a veteran of the Chicago Poetry Scene, and his old school style made mention of much nostalgia, including the old Lit X venue in Wicker Park that served for years as a venue for the African American voice.

Bonafide read from the page, explaining that now that he is a father he likes to "write". His performance hit its climax when he read a list poem with each line beginning "Let the page be . . ." He also went back to his roots and read a piece about being a teacher at Clemente Community Academy. Bonafide was proper desert for a highly charged dinner of poetry.

In July, Mental Graffiti promises a "grudge match" slam against the Green Mill team. If you want to experience some "old school" styles of poetry, if you want to witness poetry getting an injection of adrenaline, if you want to simply have a good, old-fashioned time with some of the most talented poets in the city of Chicago, check out Mental Graffiti. It'll be the best five bucks you ever spend.

--CJ Laity

Note: Laity checks out Mental Graffiti at Funky Buddha and has a few words to say about it. Click here for full story.

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