February 21, 2014

Green Mill Slam & Open Mic, February 16

I'm back in Chicago & it's a Sunday night so off we went to the Green Mill where “Slam” was birthed (& where 3 Guys from Albany were twice the features). Dinner first next door at Fiesta Mexicana with Charlie Rossiter, then into the Green Mill early enough to get good seats up front, with more than a full house later. After all the rules & regulations of the national Slam bureaucracy that we have to endure here in Albany, it was nice to see Marc Smith playing with the process he invented many years ago, & doing it his own way. Of course it was a spirited program from start to finish -- funky, outrageous, anarchic -- that's what the Green Mill is.

Marc Smith ("so What!") began with a signature piece, his El-train poem, complete with audience participation flipping switches, pushing buttons, blowing whistles, making the train go, just to get us energized. A running joke of the night was the absence of the usual band to play along with the poets, as if it really mattered, since Marc talked about them all night; it was like they were there in their absence, or something like that.

So on to the open mic. Marc had a jug of tags of open mic sign-ups for him to select from & the first up was Cariss (1) with "Manic Depression Urban Love Poem in 5 Seasons." Rob's poem was titled either "Casual," or "Cash-ual." Tomaylo's piece was about looking to return to the place of hope -- So far so good.

Then up to the mic was Gregorio Gomez, the host of the 2nd longest running open mic (or longest running open mic, depending upon whom you believe, Marc or Gregorio) at Weeds (Monday nights), with the funny, rhymed sex poem, "Passion Released," with the audience calling out the anticipated rhymes (a Green Mill tradition). I was up next & it things got even more dicey. I read my memoir of 1970s life in the East Village of NYC, my girl friends & stray cats, "The Pussy Pantoum." At the Green Mill, contrary to local practice here, finger-snapping is a sign one does not like or agree with what the poet is saying, not a hip-twit version of clapping; in addition there is the "feminist hiss" to show objection/dislike (2), & the universal foot-stomping for everyone to object. Well, I got all 3 in a crescendo to the point where I had to stop while Marc polled the audience whether I should continue my poem or not (the ayes prevailed).

Christine read a long piece mixing a fire in her apartment, her fantasy of a fire fighter, & her mother's death. Erin, her first time here, read a classic poem of love.
Phil the Rapper with Joe Hernandez

Phil the Rapper seemed to be a regular here & in the absence of the absent band had Joe Hernandez accompany him with beat-box vocals while he read a funny rhyming rap about being a guide dog. Joe Hernandez' love poem played on well-known movie themes & clichés, as complex as his beat-box rhythms. Michele's poem was also about love & intense desire. Nick (a girl, as Marc noted) did an energetic piece about finding a grey hair, a metaphor for something we're not supposed to do -- grow up.

The featured performers for the night was the Stu Mindeman's band performing selections from In Your Waking Eyes: Poems by Langston Hughes, Stu on piano, saxophones, trumpets, rhythm section, & 2 stunning vocalists. It was an interesting, if repetitive setting of mostly excerpts from Hughes’ poems.

Then on to the Slam. Marc had 8 names which he grouped into 4 pairs for single elimination, but first he did a Carl Sandburg poem -- we are in Chicago you know. Contrary to local (Albany) practice, here at the Green Mill the audience is the time-keeper (3), so it's a matter of what it feels like rather than what the clock says; there were 3 judges, apparently selected by Marc himself, all young women sitting up close to the stage.(4)

The first pair was Patsy, who apparently had been here in years past, her poem about raising kids, & my buddy Charlie Rossiter who did his famous "I-74 Street Corners of America" poem, & won that round!

The next pair was Doug Power & Kevin. Did I say how merciless the audience could be here? Doug did a piece about "the Anti-Christ of Canada" & the finger-snapping & hissing & foot-stamping early in his poem made the response to my poem "The Pussy Pantoum" seem like attentive silence, & when Marc polled the audience poor Doug had to sit down. Kevin won with a piece about meeting Amiri Baraka in The Tombs (NYC jail).

The next pair was Erica (Dreisbach) against "the guy from Detroit" whose name Marc kept messing up & I never got, for the record. But Erica's "this is not a poem, this is an exorcism…" beat his narrative of his first time in a whore house.

Derrick's poem on "organic" (it's not just food) began as an effective piece but the audience thought it just went on too long & he met the fate of the Anti-Christ of Canada, & additionally lost his spot to Brian who paid tribute to his influences, his "Poppas" Biggy & Tupac.

It was on to a final round. Charlie, his poetic heart as big as the country I-74 crosses, gave up his spot to "the guy from Detroit." But when it was all said & it was all done, Brian took the money with a piece on the shootings in Chicago & dedicated to Jordan Davis, with the chilling refrain, "where is the smell coming from & how do we stop it" -- indeed.  Interestingly, the price money swelled from $10 to over $20 from audience contributions.

The night ended with Marc doing a tour-de-force piece on the mix of Chicago, bouncing off the images from Carl Sandburg. When you go to Chicago, plan your stay to include a Sunday evening & take in the poetry & shenanigans at the Green Mill -- it will be the best $7 you ever spent. & say "Hi" to Marc for me.

[More photos from this event are posted on my Flickr! site.]

(1) Spelling, pronunciation, etc. were problematic all night, with Marc stumbling over the sign-ups & my less-than-perfect hearing & the noise, so any corrections are welcome.

(2) The male alternative/response is a groan.

(3) The maximum time for a Slam poem is 3 minutes (with a grace period of 10 seconds, after which points are deducted).

(4) Many Slam events use 5 judges, with the top score & lowest score are dropped so that in effect only 3 scores are counted.

1 comment:

ericaricardo said...

Ahhhhh thanks for this post :)

Footage of me [erica] slamming this poem here: