Taking the Stage

We’re crowded into a tiny room in the downstairs of a bar on Mass. Ave. called The Cantab Lounge.  The floor is cement and the chairs pulled to the center of the room are those simple café chairs you see in old diners.  A bartender stands at a small bar in the back, but no one is drinking so he has a pitcher of the water on the counter and his eyes, and ears, on the poets.  It’s 11 o’clock in the morning and we’re about to start the Point of Origin open mic.

Poets take the stage –no platform, simply an open space in the front and center of the room-and share a bit about where they’re from and who they are.  A Japanese-American man, a co-host of this event, spits a piece that sends tears down my face and chills up my spine.  It’s a poem about his grandfathers.  He opens telling us that in 1945 his Japanese grandfather had his house burned to the ground in Tokyo and his American grandfather was overseas burning down Japanese houses in Tokyo.  His piece jumps through different points in time using the year to anchor us in this winding history, but beyond simply naming the years his imagery captures the time and place so precisely.  By the end my face is wet and I feel like I’ve been watching baseball with his “grampy.”

Pieces about race, skin color, heritage, the hood, hard times, layoffs, and mistaken identities bounce off the walls of the room land in my chest.  It’s powerful to hear someone’s story, it’s even more powerful delivered with skill and art.  A good slam piece is like an invisible tattoo – you are left marked and changed, but only you know it.

I would have liked to have heard more from a woman who began an incredible piece, but then forgot the rest of it and started over with a different one.  Her first piece was about being a brown-skinned woman.  She did it in the form of questions asked to her with bigotry woven in.  “What kind of brown,” she asked, following it with stereotypes and painful slurs wrongly associated with those of brown skin, “like terrorist brown?”  Her piece was moving as she used fear and hatred to spin these questions asked to her about her own skin.

Another poet, a beautiful English Muslim woman, read a piece by her favorite author.  I wish I had made a note of the name.  This piece talked about the beauty of women and outlined the oppression in American culture of American women through products and being treated like a commodity to be bought, maintained, or sold.  I’m not doing it any justice, but it was great to see the view of oppression turned away from the American way of thinking about women and the hijab and instead look at the early sexualization of young girls and women and the push to remain youthful and beautiful in America.

Finally, I took the stage and did my piece, Blue Eyes. I think it was an interesting piece to do after hearing so many people share about their parents and grandparents.  It might have made more sense to do These Are My People, but Blue Eyes says a lot about where I come from.  I tell people it’s about my daughter, but really it’s about me and being between my past and where I’m from and my future and the daughter I’m raising.  I’m happy to say it was well received and now I can say I’ve slammed in Cambridge.

 

Slam It!

I love poets.  I walked into the venue on Mt. Auburn street past the guy on the front porch shouting out to those walking past that a poetry slam was happening inside, to be greeted like an old friend.  After picking up my festival pass and settling into a great seat I made fast friends with the girl next to me.  I shared a box of tuna and crackers with her and she shared a bottle of water with me.  It reminded me of kindergarten-simpler times.

Then I met this guy.  Only at a poetry slam can you walk up and say to someone, “Hey, can I take a picture of your ass?”  Only to get the response, “Sure!  My mom made these for me!”

Everyone was excited to be in the room and it quickly filled beyond capacity to standing room only.  It was difficult to see from my chair in the VERY back of the room, but I had the big overstuffed comfy chair while everyone else had folding chairs –or no chairs at all.  The people to my left turned out to be from Atlanta, where I will be in about a week.  They gave me a lot of good information about poetry events happening there while I’m visiting.  Poetry.  Poets.  People.

A room of poets is an instant community.  Even among the competing teams there is support and love for one another.  From where I was sitting I observed one team nod vigorously while another team performed, sighing to each other “he’s good” while nodding and applauding for this opponent.

The event tonight was at the Democracy Center building on Mt. Auburn street in Cambridge.  The building itself is interesting.  It’s an old house downtown that serves as a meeting place for several non-profits.  Four teams competed in this preliminary round: 6

Da Poetry Lounge (Hollywood, CA), Intangible Slam (New York City, NY), Nuyorican Poets Café (New York City, NY), and  Puro Slam (San Antonio, TX).  My favorite slammers were on the teams from New York.  Those poets were polished.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the semi-finals.

The walk from the venue to the subway carried the same vibe as people who couldn’t stay for the second bout left and headed to the subway.  I made even more friends as we walked long swapping opinions on specific pieces we’d heard.  I wonder if everyone else comes back from a slam needing to write the way I do?  Maybe tomorrow, I’ll ask around.

National Poetry Slam

On August 5th I’m flying into Boston where I will get to tour Salem, see the sights, and go to the 2011 National Poetry Slam! I’m very excited. I can’t compete because I won’t be there for finals and let’s face it, I’m chicken! I still haven’t slammed at an open mic, though I do plan to correct this while in Boston.

For 4 days I will be immersed in open mics, workshops, poets, and preliminary competitions. I am on edge with excitement and eager for the inspiration I know I will receive and the writing that will come from it.

I haven’t been feeling very inspired this month.  I’ve been writing though, just not poetry.  I’ve written essays for some other blogs and a sermon which I delivered at UU this past Sunday.  I am considering this fall committing to a 30/30 again.  Writing 30 poems in 30 days.  It’s a challenge and you get a lot of crap, but you also get some real gems from this kind of work.  This fall or winter I will also be challenging myself to one more type of formulaic writing.  In the spring I did 6 weeks of Haiku and this summer I made a vain attempt at 6 weeks doing sonnets.  What should I tackle this winter?  Suggestions?