Sorry for the slow posting on the slam update. I was up in Vancouver, BC this week to feature at the UBC Poetry Slam and it threw a wrench into my weekly routine. The good news is that the feature went well and the UBC crowd was incredibly welcoming and kind.
Here is Dain Kuttler’s much anticipated report from the ground at the Seattle Poetry Slam.
Some nights, it’s all about the feature. Some nights, the slam can focus the energy of a rowdy crowd and bring every poem to new heights. And some nights, the humble open mic – the come-one-come-all judgment-has-no-place-here origins of so many of us rules the show.
But this past Tuesday night, it wasn’t about any of those things. It was all about the audience. WOW! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience so engaged, excited, and respectful in all my time in Seattle. They just never gave up! Even as the numbers dwindled in the later bouts of the slam, each score was appropriately cheered or booed to its maximum. Fabulous host Dain Michael Down (I’m gonna miss you so much, square root!) said it straight from the stage – “Damn, you guys are amazing.” Dear audience, you were such a pleasure. Please come again, any time. I’ll make your favorite cookies.
Now, getting to the business: Mark Gonzales took the stage with a verbal tornado, “pen holstered in pocket” (from his piece “For you who do not write”) and tongue ready to spark. His pieces stayed mostly in the political arena – quotes include “It’s easier to put fists in the air than food on a child’s plate” and “poets write about life; you, sister, just live.” But for me, what really put Mark on the map was his mission.
Poets write about everything from farts to suicide, but some topics go largely unexplored. In a string of eloquent, pointed banter (banter being defined as anything the poet says onstage that is not part of a poem), Mark talked about depression, suicide, and the need to break the silence around mental health in our communities, particularly the poet community. YES! We take it for granted – and accept! – that artists are supposed to struggle with depression. The history of poetry and art is filled with suicide, self-injury, abuse and madness. It’s time to change that course. And Mark Gonzales is on the front line.
Open Mic Notes
Rachel, a first timer (welcome!) opens with “She don’t know,” a poem about “eyes of little girls trapped in grownup bodies.” Good work! Come back!
Jordan the Great – A lesson for you, Jordan: make some eye contact with the audience! Don’t be scared of us! And telling jokes from the stage can be a great way to break the ice, but introducing your joke by saying “this is a little racist” probably won’t fly in this crowd. Jordan’s revival-style freestyle was full of biblical references.
Everett B – cleanses us all with a rendition of “Holy Water,” a beautifully illustrated scene of a boy drinking from a clear spring. Nice descriptive work.
Thomas Hard – “Lack of direction,” a piece that dealt with both the history of maps and directions. Nice work. Keep coming back, my friend. (Karen’s note: Thomas is the husband of former Seattle Slam Host Allison Durazzi! I’m SO GLAD they are both becoming RE-REGULARS at the slam!)
Stephanie read a piece that her husband wrote titled “Food Warrior” about local and homegrown food. Some great puns, including “We make rad dishes” (GET IT?! I love it!) and “here to stand against the tyranny of the bland.” Delicious!
Jeff R whipped out some nice vocals. In all honesty, I missed a lot of what was said, but I remember a solid rhythm that developed throughout the piece.
Knives – oh Knives, I wanted to love your piece! Your choreography was tight, natural, and well-focused. Your stage presence was quiet, and powerful. But your decision to go off-mic meant that I could hardly hear a word! I didn’t want to tell you to get back on the mic after you’d made it very clear that you “don’t do mics” but man, I’d rather hear you next time!
Alison Durazzi – “I didn’t know,” a piece about a nursing home. Her descriptions of her grandmother’s shrinking body hit me particularly hard. I hear you, poet.
Kyla whips out a piece about Black history, complete with a review of the issues of today. Nicely done.
Rajni brings out a piece on “scar shame” and how to transform it into scar pride. “Black gold / under pressure / I become diamonds / made of black coal.” Beautiful, as usual.
Open Slam Notes (been awhile, eh?)
Round 1 – TEN PEOPLE
Corvis sacrifices in his usual freestyle banter. 22.1
Sara Brickman premieres a piece about crazy girls that I immediately love. Quote: “I asked if she was Big Spoon or Little Spoon and she said ‘I’m a motherf****** steak knife!” 23.9
Jodie Knowles comes up with “I’m no Angel.” 24.3
Matt Gano – a piece I haven’t heard about working at Wells Fargo Bank. Hilarious, and punchy, given the state of banks and all. Note: the person sitting next to me (who was rather inebriated) poked me repeatedly through Matt’s poem and said “He’s got it all wrong; I work for Wells Fargo, and they are so not that bad!” Props to Matt. 24 even.
Jack McCarthy – Jackie, you had ‘em in the palm of your hand from the beginning with this gut-buster about snooze buttons: “the clitoris of life?!” REALLY?! Terrific way to explode the scores to a 26.7
Simon – A piece about his journey through and out of depression– way to be in conversation with our feature, Mark! 21.9
Bruce V. Bracken – the sink poem, with edits! I love edits! 19.4
Michael Solsi – “a Che shirt does not make you a revolutionary.” Nope, it sure don’t. 20.5
Dane Kuttler gives the best performance she’s given in months and exits the stage grinning like an idiot and singing Beethoven. 24.2
Jenelle – a hilarious piece about nipples. Had the crowd rolling! Nice job, with a 24.6
Angel – “Archaeologist.” Nice work with the imagery, but I got the feeling that the piece was a greater metaphor for something – relationships, maybe? It didn’t quite come through. Nice work, though. 21.5
Jenelle – a poem about relationships she has with men, which are not necessarily romantic, or long-term, or society-approved. A solid exploration, with promise. A short time penalty takes her to a 23.4 (Crowd is not pleased by this idea of time penalties.)
Dane Kuttler tries out the 2-minute version of what is usually a solid 3-minute poem. It works. More grinning. 24.9
Jack McCarthy takes a 2nd round risk with a piece that hinges on a single letter – “I” 24.9
Matt Gano continues his arc of unusually grounded storytelling about nearly crapping his pants in Hong Kong. It was as funny as it sounds – and ended up being totally touching, too. Time penalty takes him to a 22.3. (Crowd is less pleased.)
Jodie Knowles becomes the firecracker in the round with “My eyes are broken pieces of heart glass.” Did I get that quote right? Beautiful, clean, precise work. 26 even.
Jodie leads off with a piece that talks about suicide attempts that seems like a brilliant piece of conversation with Simon and Mark Gonzales. I love it when poets do that – engage each other across poems. Jodie, spectacularly done. 26.7
Dane loses a little steam by doing a piece that’s just too old with just too little fire left. Not a great choice, but she leaves the stage with dignity. 24.5
And Jack closes in for a glorious win with “Addictions,” a piece from his album “Breaking Down Outside A Gas Station.” A beautiful night overall!
Alas, I will not be there to review my dear editor and mentor, Karen Finneyfrock next week! Someone else should do it…any takers? Enjoy the show!
Finneyfrock Slam News Correspondent