Monday, October 11, 2004

What I Did Sunday Night

"I'M GONNA RAPE your d*ck till it bleed!" the red-head screamed repeatedly, at what must've been 90 Decibels*.

*According to the League for the Hard of Hearing, 90 Decibels is the approximate noise level of:

A) a tractor

B) a shouted conversation

C) a garbage disposal

Had I actually been naked and in bed with Gi__, the thought of having my d*ck raped till I bled would've had me a little concerned. Fortunately, I was not naked, but rather fully-clothed and emceeing the 2nd Sunday Slam at Java Monkey Coffeehouse in Decatur.

The 2nd Sunday Slam is the resurrection of Atlanta slam after 3 years of slamlessness - three years since I last hosted Slam City! at the now-defunct Paradigm Artspace in Midtown in 2001. The 2nd Sunday Slam will serve as the local track to the 2005 National Poetry Slam in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This past Sunday's event was the first of 6 monthly qualifiers for the final 2005 Atlanta team selection in May.

Ten poets signed up to compete. Gi__, the 6th poet in the first round, delivered the evening's 4th rant.

rant [n.]: violent, high-sounding, or extravagant language, without dignity of thought; noisy, boisterous, and bombastic talk or declamation; as the rant of the deranged.

Supposedly, this rant was about turning the sexist notion of rape on its head (no pun intended), as the poet speaker took on the persona of a ruthless female rapist. Actually, it was a crock of-

Well, let's just say that it could have been a lot more artfully done.

I took the stage to call for the judges' scores. And when I couldn't tell if C__rr__'s scorepad said 6 or 0, I seriously began to question what I'd gotten myself into.

Several in the audience had never seen a slam before and many had negative perceptions regarding slam's lack of artistry, lack of literary quality, its rah-rah-rantiness. Yet here was my face attached to a what was become a giant rantfest!

I_o_, the 6'4", offensive-linesman-sized penultimate reader of the first round, ranted so hard he broke the microphone to pieces.

No, you're not hearing me. Literally, when I_o_ left the stage, the microphone, which was whole when he started, ended up on the floor in separate pieces.

I wish I were kidding.


Before you get to thinking that the event was a total disaster, let me tell you the ways (largely because of Kodac's motley core audience at his weekly open mic series) in which it was a runaway success:

  • the audience was very diverse by age, by race, by gender
  • 6 of the 10 competitors were women (women are typically underrepresented in slam)
  • the performers were ethnically diverse
  • the audience was amped - enthusiastic and extremely responsive to the performers
  • the outdoor patio at Java Monkey was packed beyond packed - to the point that a small crowd was gathered outside the gate on the Church St. sidewalk
  • the show started on-time, 8:00 p.m., and ended at 10:10, which included a 10-15 minuted intermission
  • not a single one of the entrants was a bad performer - even the evening's lowest scorer was engaging
  • there were at least 4 writers who had me excited about their potential, one of whom actually won.
Aside from the internal drama I was dealing with in my previous Venting: Poetry Politics in Atlanta post - about my feeling like the Uncle Ben on this box of rice - now I was struggling with this swelling tide of ranting and with its possible long-term effects on this newborn slam series.

Did the audience contain potential performers who would be intimidated by the bombardment of yelling and screaming thus far? Might these people who were not yellers or screamers never compete because they thought this was the only way to slam? Would there be others who'd never before attended a slam event, who might now write it off as the Dogma of the Deranged?

Something needed to balance the event.

Fortunately, at this kickoff slam, I would also be the featured poet. My mission: To break the box - to shatter many long-standing myths which the first round, unfortunately, was reinforcing about slam.

1) The only way to deliver a poem is to SCREAM at the top of your lungs.
2) Anger is the only valid emotion.

For my first poem, I did "Conjurewoman," which is quiet, playful and seductive.

3) Poems must be memorized.
4) Political poems must contain at least five words ending in -ism, ten words ending in -tion, and must all directly reference President Bush or some other conservative villain in public office.

For my 2nd poem, I read the, again quiet, "On a Fieldtrip to the Botanical Gardens, Kenya Gets a Lesson (Not in the Lesson Plan)," which addresses colorism, reading from the text in my hand.

5) Poems must use the entire three minutes.

For my 3rd poem, I did the 45-second, "Uncle Charlie Comes to da Family Reunion."

6) Hip-hop vernacular is the only acceptable language.

For my 4th poem, I performed the 'literary' "The Dreamlife of Dr. Bledsoe's Inner Pickaninny."

7) Hip-hop posturing (that awful b-boyish gesturing with the hands) is the only acceptable range of body movement.

For my 5th poem, I did the Black rural vernaculared, Baptist-church-inspired "Genealogy of the Byrd Family."

8) If an audience is not vocally responding by laughing or hooting during your performance, then it doesn't work as a slam poem.

I closed with the somber, "Elegy for 7 (the Space Shuttle Poem)" which leaves an audience, unsure whether to even clap - that is, largely silent.


At the end of my set, my eyes were shut. I held the final moment of the Columbia disaster.

My first thought, before I opened my eyes, was that I was proud of how I had represented the art form to the audience. Sure they hooted and cheered the ranters before, but I cared less that they had the time of their lives and more that they saw different possibilities of slam. I wanted them to stretch. I wanted them to think.

To my surprise, my eyes opened to a standing ovation.


Overall, the slam was high-energy, even if light on poetry. with genuine moments of honesty and bravery - lots of raw talent that needs to be challenged to think outside of the box.

Theresa Davis, Adriana, and the winner, a crafty blonde-dreadlocked poet, Bryan (who got five 10's on the night), all looked very promising for this new season. I'm excited about watching them grow.

"Thanks for doing this," Bryan said afterwards, "for us."

And I thought (reluctantly), Maybe this won't be so bad after all.


BLUE said...

hey ... such a hilarious and accurate account of that night. i'm waiting for the book, bro. and even though my card said "6" ... my heart said "0." so you would have read it correctly either way. big love to ya'! light! ~BLUE

Anonymous said...

i think your performances showed the possibilities, the stretches, and the depth that a team should have, or where it can go.there were a lot of nerves in there, lots of high energy & respresented an obvious gap.
i think the slam cadence thing is something all the scenes struggle with~how to encourage judges, performers & audience to respond, create, and change the molds?

it's going to be fun & i think in you, everyone's got a great leader by example.