SLAM! – Saratoga Literary Art and Music, June 8

As you can see, this was not a “Slam” but a S.L.A.M., but 3 of Albany’s finest poets performed in another of Saratoga’s problematic “Arts Festivals.” This was held on the patio of Sperry’s Restaurant on Caroline St. The problem here being Caroline St. — next door at Dango’s was a loud rock band & a booze soaked crowd, not to mention the loud, booze-soaked crowd on Sperry’s patio. Not that poetry needs a quiet, sober crowd, as we know. But this was the snooty, over-dressed Saratoga elite who has little interest (or awareness) of poetry.

Jill Crammond was first up, even before the bands, introduced by an enthusiastic M.C. who nonetheless equated “slammin’” with “poetry.” This was not a Slam — no judges, no scores, the poets did sets. Didn’t matter, few in the audience knew the difference. But Jill, “blond, pink & beautiful” hit the suburban housewives in the audience with her biting commentary on marriage, the role of women (& men), sex & divorce with a selection of her best “Mary poems,” reading against the rock beat next door & the 3-deep chattering at the bar. Not to mention her hair was perfect.

Next up was jazz-singer Donna Singer performing with the Doug Richards Trio. Miriam Axel-Lute is a poet/performer whose work is much closer to Slam than Jill’s, reciting most of her poems from memory. Her poems were energetic pieces set in Albany, in New York City, even a little bit of radical economic theory. She ended with a piece that about being LOUD! & was able to get through some of the babble.

Elizag followed, a member of Albany’s first Slam team that went on to the Slam Nationals last year. If anyone in the crowd was interested in Slam, Elizag gave them a major dose, beginning with her classic “Meatball” poem, riffing on “motherfucker.” She continued in the same vein, baiting the audience until she got to a new poem, a quiz to see if you are truly working class, a powerful piece to deliver to a 1% (or at least 1% wannabee) audience, including a relentless, inarticulate heckler. That reminded me of the old axiom that the best poetry is kind that will cause a fist-fight to break out in the bar.

That was it for poetry, as the Hot 8 Brass Band took the stage. On the way out, Don Levy gave his blessing to the night with his classic assessment: “That was a good reading.” I’ll give the organizers credit for reaching out to poets to be part of the Saratoga Arts Festival, but Caroline St. on a Saturday night may not be the best venue for it. At least no one got stabbed.