Poetry Slam’s 25th Birthday Extravaganza
For those of you already familiar with slam poetry, you don’t need me to beg or cajole you into going to the 25th Anniversary Extravaganza at the Metro. The rest of you, your heads filled to the brim with the rank leavings (if only I could swear in these articles) and false interpretations that many have of poetry, listen closely: tilt your head to the side, whack yourself across the temple a couple times, then sweep all your prior knowledge of poetry that snowed out of your ear like radioactive, post-apocalyptic debris underneath the carpet.
How ya feelin’? Feelin’ alright? Strong? A lil’ lighter maybe? Good. Now your slam poetry education can begin.
Slam Poetry is Genuine
When you come out of a city as diverse as Chicago, a city as segregated as Chicago, when you both love and hate it all at once and, most of all, you got something to get off your chest, you have no choice but to be genuine. Especially when you’re someone like Marc Smith, the once blue collared construction worker who went on to create slam poetry twenty-five years ago. Marc Smith is genuine, and so is Slam Poetry.
Slam poetry isn’t the stale, cliched remnants of the beat generation’s long dead coffee shop readings. Slam poets won’t hide behind a piece of paper as you sip on your mocha-cappa-whatever, pretending they’re not there. They’ll jump up and down on your table. Slam poetry, as Chicago Slam Works likes to say, is “saving literary audiences from monotony.” By any means necessary.
As attention seeking as this makes slam poetry sound, it’s not like the glorified depictions of art you’ll see in the media. Slam Poetry’s need to be heard is never louder than its need to express a style and an art. Slam poetry doesn’t make compromises, not when art is at stake.
Most of all, Slam poetry is for everyone. Not just the marginalized citizens of forgotten neighborhoods, or well educated suburbanites who feel like saving the world, or any other stereotype you can come up with. Slam poetry is for everyone willing to get in front of the mic and be honest. Sometimes it comes out in the form of comedy, other times it manifests into a sad tale, occasionally it’s about love, and sometimes it’s all these things and more. Slam poetry is like it’s birthplace of Chicago in its diversity, but lacks the division of its neighborhoods. This is a good thing.
Okay, I’ve yapped on long enough. What can you expect from Poetry Slam’s 25th Birthday Extravaganza? You can expect Marc Smith to bring the magic as the host of the night, the same way he’s brought the magic for the Uptown Poetry Slam for the past quarter century. You can expect to see how far the legacy he’s created for slam poetry has gone when you see Germany’s Word Alert perform. Bringing you back home to Chicago will be the Speak’Easy Ensemble (made up of local poets/comedians/weirdos Robbie Q. Telfer, Dan Sullivan, Tim Stafford, Joel Chmara, Molly Meacham, Shelley Geiszler and JW Basilo), who will make you laugh until you’re snorting milk out your nose, even if you haven’t had milk in twelve years. They are both that weird and that funny
Providing solo performance poetry will be Regie Gibson, Gregorio Gomez, and Patricia Smith. Regie Gibson has the uncanny ability to make you think the perfect amount, not too much, but not too little, with his poems. Gregorio Gomez, who has been an influence on poetry about as long as slam poetry’s ‘Slam Papi’ Marc Smith, continues to inspire underground poetry with his Spanish-infused intensity, pulling sentimentality from everyone who sees him. Patricia Smith, who has more accolades than I can possibly list and is considered one of the best live performers in the world, will get into your head. Literally. Armed with the ability to understand those she has nothing in common with, she’s able to turn her empathy into words, and turn her words into a grenade thrown directly into your brain.
All in all, this is a list of individuals you’d be crazy not to see.