Women Massacre Men During Anniversary Slam
On Saturday, July 30, 2011, I was given a full press pass courtesy of Marc Smith himself to attend the 25th Anniversary of the Poetry Slam, held at Metro. I took the opportunity to bring my camera, to get some snapshots of some celebrity poets for ChicagoPoetry.com. I started out at the exclusive VIP reception held in the Smart Bar where there was no shortage of photo opps (or food for that matter).
Right away I ran into Dave Jemilo, owner of the Green Mill, the lounge that has been hosting the Uptown Poetry Slam for 25 years. Jemilo spilled the beans to me about the true origins of the slam. It seems way back then Jemilo owned another nightclub called Deja Vu that had a jazz showcase on Sunday nights. In order not to compete with himself, he cancelled the Green Mill Sunday night events and was left with a dead night during which nothing happened and nobody attended. Marc Smith had been doing some poetry things here and there, so Jemilo asked him if he'd like to do something at the Mill on Sunday nights. After a few days of thinking about it, Smith called Jemilo and told him he was going to hold a three hour event called the Poetry Slam. Jemilo's response was, "What the (bleep) is a Poetry Slam?" And the rest is history.
I ran into Chicago Slam Works' Treasurer Joe Stewart as we partied at the VIP reception, and I discovered that Joe is the son of Josephine Stewart, who has appeared within the pages of my own publication, Poetry Cram, more than once. What a small poetry world it is!!
Mojdeh from Lethal Poetry / Words That Kill was hard at work taking photos as well. I'll share a link to it whenever she posts some of them online.
I hadn't seen Dean Hacker in ages, perhaps last at FitzGerald's in Berwyn in the early nineties when Marc Smith held a weekly weeknight poetry slam there. Later in the evening Dean shouted a poem from the second floor balcony of the Metro.
Reader critic and all around good gal, Mary Shen Barnidge was another blast from the past that I was delighted to run into. The evening was turning out to be a real who's who of Chicago poetry. It was a strange juxtaposition from the night before when I attended the Printers Ball and barely recognized a soul.
Jean Howard was one of the handful of poets who was showcased in a big, full color feature article about the performance poetry scene from the Chicago Tribune back in 1991. She's been part of the poetry slam movement from the beginning.
The VIP reception started getting crowded and I'll bet ideas for quite a few poetry projects were conceived in that room that night.
Marc Smith, now in his sixties, was hanging out with everyone like the down to earth guy he is.
Anyway, after the reception in Smart Bar, we all went upstairs to the Metro and the big show began with poets popping up out of the audience shouting excerpts from their old school poetry.
One poet would shout out lines of poetry from the balcony, another would shout from the side of the stage, and another from the middle of the packed audience. It was sincerely trippy.
The Speak'Easy Ensemble included Dan Sullivan, Tim Stafford, Molly Meacham, Robbie Q. Telfer, Joel Chmara, Shelly Elaine Geiszler, and J.W. Basilo.
Adam Gottlieb demonstrated the power of the new generation of slam poets with his "love, love" poem.
David Hernandez cracked the audience up with a few short poems before he did his Chicago poem accompanied by his band Street Sounds.
The line-up of "famous" poets was not about to end there, as Cin Salach graced the stage of the Metro nearly twenty years after a command slam performance that won her a position as cultural ambassador to Prague.
There were plenty of next generation poets in the house during the Slam Anniversary. I had the pleasure to sit in the second row next to the Tulsa Louder Than A Bomb Poetry Slam Team. They seemed to be deeply studying the performances of their mentors for tips on how to improve their own work.
Louder Than A Bomb, the annual teen slam competition, was represented on the stage as well.
Then these guys from Germany, Word Alert, took to the stage, accompanied by members of the Speak'Easy Ensemble who performed along side them, often translating their work. I would say that the German slam team was a highlight of the night, but since there wasn't really a lull in the show, everything was sort of a highlight.
And then, just when you thought it was safe to go to a poetry slam, out came Gregorio Gomez, with a cup of beer in one hand and a cigarette in another. He proceeded to do the best rendition of his poem "The City" that I've ever heard. Now, I don't say that lightly. I've seen Gregorio do that poem at least a hundred times in all sorts of locations, and over the years I may have said that this or that performance of it was the best--but his performance at the Metro was hands down THE best of them all. He rejected the microphone, standing in the middle of the stage reciting at the top of his lungs, his face turning red with the energy he was emitting, and without missing a beat and rolllllling his words, he offered us a pre-slam prayer that we are not likely to forget.
And then the Poetry Slam began, a battle of the sexes between the men and the women, pitting Marty McConnell, Emily Rose and Patricia Smith against Roger Bonair Agard, Kevin Coval and Regie O. Gibson. We all knew the women were going to win right from the start, but it was a hell of a lot of fun anyway. But first, Chuck Perkins gave a taste of his word art as the "sacrificial poet."
It started out really bad for the men when one of the judges gave Kevin Coval a score of ZERO for his poem about managing a friend's bid for high school class president. Seems Coval went over the three minute time limit and even though the audience may have been too engaged in the work to snap their fingers, the judge was a lot less merciful.
Something amazing happened next. People from the audience started approaching the stage and throwing cash onto it, adding to the $15 Marc Smith laid out as the prize money. Soon there was a huge pile of cash that was growing by the moment. I do believe a new Poetry Slam shtick was born at the Metro.
Not even Roger Bonair Agard's poem about an all black penguin could out do the wit and wisdom of the lady poets of the evening.
Regie Gibson was the last hope for the team of men, and he gave it his all with his poem about Jimi Hendrix, and to be honest, I think his was the best poem of the evening and if I had been a judge, things might have played out a little differently. But what can you do, what can you expect, what can you hope for when you are followed by none other than Patricia Smith?
Patricia Smith brought the house down with the final poem of the slam, raising the women's accumulative score from a 0.8 deficit to a 0.1 lead to win the slam.
The women promptly grabbed the big stack of cash off the stage and shoved it into their braziers.**
The evening ended with a poem by Marc Smith himself: "Pull The Next One Up." Marc is one of the only people in the world who can keep a three and a half hour poetry reading from being boring. At one point a man jumped up on stage and started tap dancing while Marc was reciting a poem. Marc's trademark blending of poetry and performance art is as strong or even stronger today than it was 25 years ago when it first began. What poetry movement in the history of the world can brag about something like that? The big poetry party at Metro was a fitting celebration to mark this wonderful occasion. I'm glad I was lucky enough to attend.
Congratulations! See you at the Slam's 50th Birthday Party.
All photos and captions by CJ Laity.
Note: Oh no, you didn't miss the Poetry Slam Anniversary Party at Metro, did you? Really? Why? Well, luckily I was there and took some photos. Check them out!