It was May 1968, and I was in San Francisco, playing ping pong in Berkeley, hanging out around Haight-Ashbury, looking for adventure and pathetically unaware that I was a year too late for the summer of love.
One evening some friends cajoled me into hauling myself and my poetry down to City Lights bookstore for a "reading." It wasn’t a reading, it was an ur-poetry slam — way before the term came into existence. I signed up, listened to some Ferlnghetti wannabes and droning exercises in the style of the mad Ezra Pound, then stood up to read my stuff.
I started with a couple sweet, naïve, love poems, tried a sonnet or two, skipped my haiku and finished with something about the angst of Ohio Octobers. The applause was polite, comforting.
Then a short, muscular guy in a T-shirt stood up, cigarette pack rolled in his sleeve, a fistful of paper in his hand and launched into his magnum opus. It was called “F*** the King of Egypt!” and it went on for about 20 minutes of increasing frenzy, punctuated every three or four lines by the title, alternately whispered and screamed. The audience went crazy. I knew I had more work to do before I tried this sort of thing again.
Everyone has to start
Your chance is coming soon. On Thursday, Nov. 8, the Southwest Poetry Project is hosting a poetry slam at Java Jacks coffee shop at 46th and Bryant. The fun begins at 7 p.m. If you want to read, check out the rules listed in the sidebar. If you write poetry, or enjoy hearing it, this is the event for you.
It should be an interesting evening. Poets will be eligible for prizes and special Elizabeth Barrett Brownies may be available. This being Minnesota, I’m sure the audience will be polite and comforting.
See you there!
Doug Wilhide is the Journal‘s contributing poetry editor and Linden Hills Poet Laureate.
About the Slam
When: Nov. 8, 7 p.m.
Where: Basement of Java Jack‘s, 818 W. 46th St.
Rules: Poetry must be your own work. No music, props or costumes. Bring your best poems. Read clearly. Have fun.
Before the slam
1.Show up about a half hour before the scheduled start time so you can register. We‘ll need your name, and some way to contact you later (phone number/ email address).
2. We may have to limit the number of readers because of time constraints.
3. Bring several poems with you.
4. We‘ll put together a schedule and let you know when you‘ll be reading.
5. Three to five volunteer judges from the audience will be selected and given cards with numbers from 0-10. They’ll use these to rate the poem(s) — like a diving meet or an ice skating contest.
During the event
1. We’ll go through the list of readers, with each poet given three minutes to read his/her poem(s).
2. Judges’ will score the poem(s).
3. The poets with the highest scores will be asked back to read again, also with a 3 minute time limit.
4. Judges scores narrow the field.
5. This goes on until we’re down to the last two readers and get a winner.
After the event
1. Winner gets a big prize and bragging rights … and can read a final poem.
2. Runners up also get prizes … and may read another poem if time permits.