Since I got into poetry, I have been going to Nationals. Being that I was following most of the exploits of the slam poets through the internet, the thought of going to this festival that spawned it’s fair share of joy & heartache seemed like a dream. (note- at this point i have NOT seen the film ‘Slam Nation’)
The scene is Minneapolis, 2002. The Team is Bassey, Bonafide, Lynne & Marty with Rachelle Street as alternate and Eric as coach/slammaster. Almost at the last minute Seve, Sabrina and I rent a car to rock the 20 hour drive to get to the heartland. Sabrina does not drive, leaving me and Sev to trade on and off as we rip through the flats of Ohio and Illinois. Long story short, we had a blast! Minny was a dream. All the venues were walking distance from the hotel and most of the eight were only four blocks from each other. Indy-semis was held in a spot that looked a lot like Webster Hall and was packed to the gills with Finals in a great old space that (again) was walking distance from the main hotel. As for the hotel, it was pretty cool not that expensive for three splitting a room (which was really two since Sabrina stayed with the ladies) and they put up with poets making 3am fusses really well as in they gave us enough warnings to chill and keep it under wraps for a few days. All in all, my first Nats was the bomb and I got to sac goat at an amazing bout (San Fran vs Boston|Lizard Lounge vs Chicago|Green Mill vs LA|Green) amongst other things. I guess the best part was that Seve helped show me how to be in the mix and then disappear when the moment called for it.
Last year, I didn’t have that luxury. As slammaster, I HAD to be at a lot of places and mixing into the shadows was not allowed. Still the good times flowed more due to the fact that about nine people made the trip along with the team and it was more fun to chill with them than the team. The day events were the bomb and I was able to meet some new folks including our very own Lovella! Yeah, Nats let me meet this incredible spirit who was only their ‘cause she had heard that there were poets-a-plenty to be seen. This, I thought, was what Nats was all about that.
Well, add the fact that the pressure of competition brings the real essence of people out. If you are gracious and true it will show in how you win or lose. Ditto if at the core of this all you want is some cheap pops. This feeling can not be duplicated at an Open reading, in my observations, nor can it be duplicated at a feature where you (as the poet) have the task of setting the mood and the tenor of the evening. Slam takes that part over and as the circus of the arena intensifies the gladiator comes out and is there for all the masses to give the thumbs up/down but yet still the warrior decides how he will react in the middle of this chaos…
This has led me to be a serious advocate for Slam amongst newer poets. I have been able to talk a few folks that thought they would never Slam into doing it and the secret is simple- I really believe it will set off a trigger in them and I honestly don’t care what direction that trigger takes them. If it tells them NEVER to Slam again- cool. If it tells them that they were born to Slam- cool. I just always wanted to give everybody that goes on stage the chance to find out for themselves rather than read about it on a blog and make points based on that.
Back to Nats, I was under the impression that Nats was the ultimate arena where the lions didn’t get any bigger, the crowd any more blood thirsty and the emperor having the least clothes. Various internet reports (and some live calls) are telling me that the emperor has been playing the fiddle while it all burns. If it has gotten as bad as I am hearing with bouts being total messes, volunteer efforts disorganized, day events clashing amongst other things then it may well be time to pull out and seek alternatives (Taos poetry circus?) or to just make a new reality happen.
I still have hope the next few Nationals will be much better run (Danny Solis holding it down in ‘Burque for 2005 & Phil West/Mike Henry kickin’ ash in Austin for ’06) but who knows after that?
The writing on the wall has been there for a while before me and during my time I have seen PSi back down from making tough choices time and time again allowing the dictates of a very vocal minority to drown out common business sense.
PSi should bring back 4×4, tap off the team limits at 64 and decide that they are trying to determine who are the best Slam poets in the country OR say we are just hear for fun- focus on day events, workshops, guest speakers, celebrity slammers and (oh yeah) a Slam competition to cap it all off.
If not, then I really don’t see myself encouraging others to participate in this mix.