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HUNDREDS OF DISAPPOINTED SLAM FANS WAIT FOR NO SHOWS
The listing in the official 2009 AWP Conference schedule reads as follows:
Chicago Poetry Slam. (Mark Elevand, Marc Smith, Kevin Coval, Idris Goodwind)
"Chicago is the birth place of the Poetry Slam. Poetry Slams are very much a part of Chicago's culture and its contribution to the world of art. Join a panel of poets returning to poetry's roots as they celebrate a revolution. Panelists participate in a Poetry Slam showcasing their individual styles and expression."
The event was planned for Saturday, February 14, at 4:30 PM, and promised to be one of the highlights and headlines of the entire conference. You could barely walk down the halls of the Hilton Chicago without hearing the buzz from people planning to attend. "Are you going to the Poetry Slam?" someone asked. "Of course," was the response.
But for the hundreds of people who showed up expecting a glimpse of some of their slam idols, it soon became apparent that these four "stars" had no intention of celebrating any revolution. It was already 4:30 and there wasn't a single slam personality in the room.
The minutes ticked by and you could hear the people mumbling. The speculation began. The rumours were abound, all of which may or may not be true. Someone said they saw a group of slam poets walking away from the conference, with Kurt Heintz tagging behind like a faithful puppy, carrying Willy Perdomo's books and attempting to keep Marc Smith's coattail from dragging the ground. Someone else suggested this was some type of protest, that the slam poets were boycotting the conference because panel members had to pay the registration fee for the conference like everyone else did. Paul Mauldoon paid the registration fee. Diane Wakowski paid the registration fee. Stuart Dybek paid the registration fee. Surely this couldn't be it, someone else argued. Certainly they knew about the registration fee before they submitted their proposal for this panel; certainly the panelists knew in advance (like everyone else did) about the registration fee when they accepted the invitation to be part of the conference. Certainly these slammers didn't propose and accept such a huge part of the conference, a time slot countless others (whose proposals had been rejected) would have gladly taken, just to blow it off. Could they have? But by 4:45 it had become evident: the poetry slam four were not showing up.
Everyone looked toward the doors, hoping the slam poets were just late, caught in traffic, in the hallway chatting, perhaps planning a big surprise entrance with a group performance poem from the back of the room.
And then, bursting out of the silence, there was a sound, a voice, some hope.
Was it Marc Smith? No. Was it Kevin Coval? No. Who was it?
The crowd stirred. Might there be a show after all? A man stood up and announced that despite the snub from the slam poets, the show WOULD go on.
Who was it?
Was it. . .
It couldn't be . . .
No, that's impossible. . .
Why, yes. . .
CJ Laity, once again, saves the poetry day!
CJ Laity seized the microphone and announced that he was now the host of the Chicago Poetry Slam panel, hereby retitled the Big Illegal Anti-Slam Poetry Event. The first thing he did was kick an old man and his video camera out of the room, shouting: "If you don't leave I will call the police and have you DRAGGED OUT!" The applause from the audience was so thunderous that someone from the neighboring room came in and asked Mr. Laity if he could please keep it down a little. Then Mr. Laity proceeded to host over a dozen of the finest young spoken word artists that America has to offer. Hundreds of people stuck around for the entire hour, cheering and applauding. Here are some images from CJ Laity's spontaneous Chicago Poetry Slam panel at the 2009 AWP Conference.
ChicagoPoetry.com wishes to thank the scheduled panelists for blowing off their event. We were able to promote our website and our Tuesday night open mic to a large, fresh, eager audience. Cheers.
I thought you might like to know the reason for the absence of the Slam panel.
The Slam event was originally scheduled for Friday, but the organizers changed the date and by then, the panel participants had other gigs scheduled, which the panel members told the organizers. In addition, Mark Eleveld, a panel member, went to the conference on Saturday and spoke to three AWP people to be sure that a cancellation notice would be posted. Apparently no one did that.
As an organizer, I know how crazy things can get, but it's too bad that AWP wasn't able to communicate the cancellation. There were no protests or bad feelings, simply a schedule goof-up. It sounds like everyone ended up having a damn good time anyway.
Thanks for the update.
Marc Smith did tell me personally that he was pissed that they were making him pay to be on a panel and that he wasn't going to show up; he did mention a schedule change as well but also pointed out his objection to the registration fee and even suggested that I might want to write an investigative piece about where all that money was going, So I knew in advance that he wasn't going to show, but he didn't mention anything about the others not showing.
As far as the others, yes, that's very surprising that they couldn't juggle their other gigs or simply send some replacement people for their AWP panel. As you know, it was very competative to get into the conference in the first place, and if they weren't committed to fulfilling their obligation they should have simply stepped aside and let someone else have the room.
I attended several panels over the weekend during which scheduled people couldn't make it and replacement people filled in for them. The least Mark Eleveld could have done was send one single person over to do what I did, hold an open mic, or at least make an announcement to the crowd about what was going on, instead of relying on others to do it for him. Not only did this not happen, but the room was eerily absent of any slam people at all--that is, not only did those on the panel not show up, but there was not one single slam personality in the audience--and this is what makes me feel that perhaps there was more to it than just a scheduling mix up.
In any case, we did have a lot of fun.
I showed up to say "hi" but I couldn't stay and frankly, I see those guys all the time so I was more interested in seeing people I can't normally see. I didn't hear anything about a boycott or anything--and I'm sure I would have if there had been any such plan.
I understand, but even so, if their excuse is not a boycott (which I can almost understand) it is simply that they had something better to do, and what kind of excuse is that, especially after how the conference went out of its way to include the slam, with its after hours slams and promotions of off site events and all. As someone who actually had to pinch my pennies and scrape up the money to be part of a panel, I find it completely snobbish that they proposed their event and then acted like it was the last item of importance on their agendas. But that's just me . . .
See you soon
I was at the AWP session in Chicago which turned into the spontaneous and wonderful anti-slam. Easily the most interesting session I've ever
attended--anywhere, not just at AWP.
Had a question that perhaps you can answer: do you know the name of the young woman (or, even better, the email address) who read the great poem about Michelle Obama? I want to send her a fan letter.
(if you know the answer to this please let me know and I will forward info to David
Note: Marc Smith, Kevin Coval, Idris Goodmwin and Mark Elevand completely blew off their scheduled AWP panel titled Chicago Poetry Slam. We have photos of the disappointed crowd and the breaking news about what actually happened. NOW INCLUDES A RESPONSE LETTER.