Coming out of a season which my friends and I have dubbed The Summer of Love, where two of my best friends got married, it has been a very busy (very fun!) year. But having done a lot of traveling, I kinda just want to hole up in my apartment for the rest of 2014, hermit style. However, when my friend Jonina emailed with a link to cheap tickets for a poetry slam a short bus ride away from my apartment, I decided that this could be just the low key “outing” that I’d be down for.
I’ve never attended a poetry reading, let alone a poetry “slam”. I imagined that it would be laughably hippie, like a scene straight out of Portlandia. Either way, it was an $8 night that promised a new experience. I figured, why not.
To my utter delight and surprise, it was not at all what I had expected. But first there was booze, and $1 pizzas (to soak up said booze).
That is a happy face, kids.
I don’t want to say happy hour is necessary before going to your first poetry slam, but it wasn’t not helpful. Two cocktails and a really good pizza later, I was ready to embrace the evening. We got to the theater, I grabbed a water (because now I was slightly dehydrated) and we found our seats, middle seats in the middle row, basically at eye level with the folks on stage. If you’ve never been to a poetry slam, newflash – it is a competition. This honestly shocked me. How can you rank art? I thought. That is so rude and blasphemous! I thought. The winner would be published in their quarterly publication Tandem, so there was at least a nice incentive for being judged. A handful of folks from the audience volunteered to be the “editors,” i.e. the judges, and would give each poet a score from 0-10 (10 being the best), and some feedback, the host read both out loud, to everyone. This alone was worth the $8 admission.
The poets were all very different. There were clear creative writers, folks who possibly went to school for this and/or write for a living. Then an emcee, a couple hippies and a dude who is what I imagine all of Burning Man to be like. A lot of superfluous imagery and whimsy.
After each round, one poet was eliminated. There were one, two and three minute rounds. My favorite part of the evening was the guest poet. A woman who has single-handedly changed my mind about poetry and I am a big fan of hers. I also felt like a huge asshole for ever thinking that a night like this would be laughable or silly. Her name is Chinaka Hodge and everyone should know about her. She shared six pieces, I believe, and each one was so incredibly powerful. She brought tears to my eyes, and left me in awe. I’d love to see her recite her work again someday.
In the end, my favorite poet ended up winning. Her pieces were really smart and relatable. Will I attend a poetry slam ever again? YES. All caps. I actually can’t wait to check out more, and take friends with me. I can’t believe I haven’t gone until now. Like going to a museum or gallery to view art, the entire experience was really inspiring. Spoken word/poetry is something that I have never attempted, but I have so much respect for these writers, all of them, especially for being so brave to share their work on stage. With lights. In front of people. I guess we all get in front of a stage with our own work in other ways, right? I left the theater feeling refreshed and rehydrated.