It was with fear & trepidation that I went to this Slam, nervous that someone would read one of my poems, that I had missed the obituary, but then, even dead, no one would probably read my poems, & no one did, not even me. Kevin Peterson, getting used to being the MC at poetry events, served as substitute open mic host.
First up was L-Majesty with “Job Market Minstrel,” a poem for our time. Brian Dorn was more personal with a really-bad-breakup poem, “Wishing Well.” Alyssa continued that dark theme with thoughts about 2:45 as the darkest of the night. Miriam Axel-Lute was back with a Winter meditation, “Breaking Trail.” Gerrit (not sure of his spelling) gave a strangely flat, mechanical performance of a hip-hop piece about white rappers (of which he is one). Leslie Michelle read a love poem she wrote today. Sampson Dikeman read what sounded like a rhymed sonnet, “I Ask God to Give You Health & Fire.” Always good to hear Jackie K., tonight with a tough piece mixing memory & being abandoned after losing her cherry. Mojavi, who was the host for the Slam, read 2 pieces, the anaphoric “I Know that Broken Things Can Grow” & the love poem “My Heart is Strong Enough For You.” Avery was the only open mic poet to use the Slam theme of “Dead Poets” & read Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky” (Avery also served as the time/score keeper, without the computer & the spread sheet algorithm to calculate the scores; seems like math is his thing).
I had decided to enter the Slam because I actually have more poems committed to memory by dead poets than my own poems. I did reasonably well in the 1st round, reciting Allen Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” (26.4). But I performed first, which meant the deadly score creep clicked in & even uninspired, apparently un-rehearsed readings scored higher than me later in the round.
It was a crowded field for the first round, a 10-4-2 night. The Dead Poets read/recited ran the gamut from T.S. Eliot & Charles Bukowski (Kevin Peterson), Lord Buckley (Sampson Dikeman), Lucille Clifton (twice: Jackie K. gave an inspired recitation of “To My Hips” in the 1st round, with L-Majesty in the second round reading the same poem from his smart phone), Anne Sexton (Brenda Rusch), Walt Whitman (Emily Willworth), Big L (Gerrit), William Carlos Williams & e.e. cummings (Miriam Axel-Lute), Rumi & Billie Holiday (Alyssa — actually, “Strange Fruit” was sung by Billie Holiday, the songwriters were Dwayne P. Wiggins, Maurice Pearl, & Lewis Allan), & Edgar Allen Poe (L-Majesty).
|Miriam, Kevin, Mojavi, L-Majesty|
All the really interesting poems were done by the time we hit the final round, which degenerated to competing mediocre pop lyrics by Big L (Kevin) & Amy Winehouse (L-Majesty). Miriam won 3rd place, Kevin 2nd & L-Majesty 1st place. To tell the truth I’m perplexed by L-Majesty winning the Slam, even to making it into the 2nd round, with a string of lack-luster readings; his performance of his open mic poem was much better than anything he did in the Slam rounds. In big Slam venues elsewhere the random picking of judges from among even novice members of the audience usually insures against the packing of the scores, but at Valentines the available pool of judges is small & frequently the same folks are holding up the mini-white boards week after week. There is also a penchant here among certain “professional judges” for “10s” being flung about like dollar bills at the bar, even for halting, sloppy performances, as long as it’s the right person. But then, as is often said, “real poems don’t get a 10,” which was why there were few of them on a night of poems by Dead Poets.
Nitty Gritty Slam is on the 1st & 3rd Tuesdays at Valentines in Albany, NY, 7:30PM — check albanypoets.com for details.