And thus begins my summer blogging…….
I will skip past my morning and afternoon– a slow breakfast, a new June breeze sifting through the screen doors, a long run along the coast, flank steak dinner, to the poetry slam.
It was about 3:30 when I noticed the email in my inbox. It was from a thread of mail that I’d been trying to put in my SPAM box for months. Opening it revealed that it was a listing of poetry slams, spoken word jams, and open mic nights spanning the Bay Area. There was a listing for June 1st: GoldenStateSLAM. I checked the date box in the upper right corner of my computer screen. June 1st. I called my dad at work.
“We’re going.” Luckily, he was down too.
At 7:30 that night we jettisoned over to Oakland. Coming from little Buena Vista in smack-dab central Colorado, I saw more diversity in my first few moments in Oakland, driving down the freeway, than I believe I did all year at school. Ah, sweet, sweet Oakland. It felt good to be home. (Not to hate on BV, home #2, but let’s face it– not a good representation of the diversity Mama Earth has to offer us. Human demography-wise.)
We park, walk a block, and stand in front of the Grand Lake Coffee House at 440 Grand Ave. We are royally early. The email said they’d start at 8:00. Being fairly fresh off the boat in terms of how my poetry slam virginity is concerned, I made sure we’d be right on time. But as the apparent custom goes, they begin when they feel ready, when people have drifted in (they drift in all night long) and when it seems right. So at nearly 8:30, it begins.
The likes of Queen D, Javier, The Saint, July, Erica and more serenade us from the mic composed before a room of filled white folding chairs, walls lined with slumping, leaning people, chairs draped with 2 or more and some spread out on the floor. And by serenade, I mean slammed hard about racism, apathetic social workers, parentless-ness, poor role models, prison, relationships, food, diabetes and cutting. In poetry slams, emotion is raw. The words roll, tumble, glide, jump, snap, tangle and weave out of the mouths of the speakers. Their cadence changes abruptly, holding you inside a pause, striking you with a phrase, a single word, lashing in a torrent of fury and soothing with a sweet tongue of reprieve. Slam poetry isn’t the poetry of your middle-aged-house-wife aunt in suburban Connecticut. Or is it? I found myself realizing that, no, I have never been exposed to the frustration, confusion, hatred and sadness of what racism can do first hand, but I have been angry, I have been hurt, I have wanted better and I have wanted to do something about it. So perhaps slam poetry is for your middle-aged-house-wife aunt in suburban Connecticut. Perhaps it is for anyone who is courageous enough to reveal their vulnerability on stage, through their words, before an audience.
Though many of the performances were quite passionate, their emotion raw, revealed and dripping, I had trouble uncovering the shift between anger and an uplift, tragedy and hope. I sensed an incredible potential behind the words, the real stories, the real damp eyes that pounded out a calculated rhythm, beat, pulse, music, with their words. But rarely did I feel the poetry take itself where it could truly go. It could have the power to transform each individual on stage into an activist, catalyst, warrior, hope itself. In my newling, wet-behind-the-ears opinion, I felt the poetry was not fully tapped for its potential as the quiet and certain change it could elicit. It really did have the power to move each one of us and show us how to be better, make us want to shoot higher; change us. But I felt that this level was seldom scratched upon. Though almost all of the performances were impressive, well executed, original, snap-worthy and fresh, I did not feel transported. The by-far stand out of the night was Erica, a 17 year old, and some sort of national champion (I am sorry that I forget the specifics) who let freed herself on stage and let out several beautiful tantrums about what it means to be black, big, diabetic, parentless, on welfare, caring for a younger sister. Her pieces were honest, gritty, powerfully executed, real and present. And off stage she was incredibly humble.
While I relished the evening for its fun-factor, the excitement of following a whim, doing something new and totally different, a glimpsing a slam culture I know next to nothing about, I mostly came away with a refreshed appreciation for people. People struggling– well, who isn’t? And being willing to create and share a poem from it, thus, in my opinion, seeing the beauty in what might otherwise be a hopeless seeming predicament. The evidence of beauty itself is to me a hope that out of ashes can be unearthed a little phoenix of a poem that can light our way until we glimpse brighter horizons.