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spacer.gif   ARCHIVE: NATIONAL POETRY SLAM COMES TO CHICAGO
Posted by : cj on Thursday, December 02, 2004 - 11:01 AM
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Poetry Gossip: Click On Headlines Letter eX covers the 2003 National Poetry Slam.

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Danny Solis and the New Mexico TeamOn Wednesday, August 6, at 3 PM, only an hour after a declaration from Mayor Richard M. Daley was read to the public by Poetry Slam founder Marc K. Smith, the Cultural Center of Chicago abruptly halted the scheduled Nationals' Kick Off Ceremony. Seems the City of Chicago was not prepared for the magnitutde and energy of this year's Slam invasion. The day at the Cultural Center started out subtly enough, with a poetry workshop for elders led by Coffee Chicago MC John Starrs. But at noon the crowd started pouring in, and immediately it became apparent that this would not be one of the Center's typical afternoon gatherings.










Ken Greene shows us why Chicago is called The City of Big ShouldersAs Pong Unit, Smith's live band (for the day featuring poets from Switzerland and France) began to play, the audience suddenly began going wild, howling and cheering with thunderous applause. The Cultural Center's security team became startled. At 2 PM, Smith hushed the crowd and read the proclamation from Daley, which complimented all the Slam poets on their "commitment to their craft" and wished them well in this "showcase" of "their quick wit." But the energy in the overcrowded room became too much for the security guards to comfortably deal with, when the 62 competing teams began, one by one, to take to the stage to do their minute introductions (Too Much Light style).











Marc Smith at the Slam Kick OffThe "def"ening applause roared throughout the Museum of Broadcast Communications and up to the Sebastiao Salgado exhibit. Unaware that a Slam style poetry reading could become so rowdy, the Cultural Center was caught off guard and found it impossible to clear the isles for safety reasons, due to the size of the crowd. The Center's misconceptions about what this poetry event would entail were shattered some more as poets from around the country gave a taste of the spoken word. Each team broke all the traditional poetry rules, creating a frenzy never before seen during a poetry reading at the Cultural Center. The hair on some of the security guards heads could be seen standing on end. The eyes in the Salgado photos began blinking. It seemed a revolution was about to take place.











A poet named Star at the Kick OffJust as the ceremony was about to explode into one of the most entertaining performance poetry events in history, the Cultural Center declared they had had enough and stopped the show. "We got ourselves into some trouble," Smith admitted over the microphone, and then he asked everyone to peacefully leave. Everyone did so. Even though it was a disappointment that many of the teams did not get the chance to do their introductions, it was a fitting beginning to a week of Slam poetry which promises to be even more insane. The 2003 National Poetry Slam might have been too much fun for the Cultural Center to handle, but the other venues hosting competitions and readings are certainly better prepared. Let the madness begin . . .

(Photos of poets at the Kick Off by C. J. Laity.)












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Mike Brown, Publisher of SlamNews.com, at the NPS Puddin'head Press Book FairCan you believe I spent over 12 hours attending the National Poetry Slam and I did not see one single poetry slam? Yeah, that's right. I wasn't there when the "erotic slam" and the "props slam" started stepping on each other's toes until they had to shut the whole thing down. I wasn't there when the judges docked a poet two points for pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket during his poem, knocking his team from first back to third place. I wasn't there when the New Mexico team got their asses kicked, and they shouted out love to the other team though "it felt like hurting." Nor was I there when Kim Berez of all people judged the individuals at the Metro. And the final night at Navy Pier? Guess what. I'm sure it was a blast but I wasn't there. Ask me who won, and I'll ask you who cares. Then, why, at the end of the week, do I feel as satisfied (and exhausted) as some of the slam poets do, such as Mike Brown (the man in this photo)? Well, I'll tell you. Though I did not witness one single slam during the 2003 Nationals, I saw tons of quality poetry performed anyway. And I mean hot verse which stood up on the stage as well as the page. I spent my hours feeling the overwhelming love during the Latino showcase, scouting new talent during the rookie showcase, getting rowdy as all hell at the Cultural Center until they kicked us out, and networking during the Native American showcase. I spent my hours hanging around and listening, on the couches where the great diversity of poets who came into town wrote their haikus, in the streets where the hugs were in abundance, out in the lobby where bright talented eyes made my heart flutter, outside on the sidewalk in front of Chopin as poets huddled to share their work. I absorbed in all the positive energy and shared in the joy of the spoken word, and at every turn was accepted into the festivities by some of the most loving people I have ever encountered, even by poets that I've harshly criticized over the years. Hell, I even managed to make a few bucks at the book fair at Roosevelt University. What a wonderful event! So when I say "who cares," don't get me wrong: take it as a tribute to SlamPapi (as in "so what?"), who has allowed his vision of an annual event to mature in the wonderful way that it has over the years. I'll say it again. Who cares who won? Not me. Check somewhere else for that scoop. You're all winners around here.

--C. J. Laity

 
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