It was a crazy-lucky coincidence. One of those things that comes together easy…
I was on work travel, did a quick online search, and discovered that the man who started the whole slam thing back in the ‘80s—Slampapi Marc Kelly Smith—still hosts one every Sunday night.
And I happened to have Sunday night free.
My colleague was game, so after a fabulous Ethiopian dinner across the street, we went. Got there too late for me to read during the unjudged open mic, but I was damn surely not leaving without having read on that stage, so I signed up for the slam.
We sat down front and she got picked to be a judge (at least partly on the strength of my recommendation that she would take no BS). Watching how much fun that turned out to be is one of the reasons I love the slam model for open mics.
There were two featured performers, whose names I’ve lost in mental dust but whose poems I still remember—one in particular about crushing on a barista, another in honor of Chicago’s Pride Parade that week.
There were a couple regulars, including Emily Rose Kahn-Sheahan, who was amazing. There were a handful of so-called virgins (poets who’d never before read at the Uptown Slam) and more than a few virgin-virgins (poets who’d never read before anywhere). One of the latter read a love poem about the fractals of cauliflower. There’s something you don’t forget.
Aside from Smith pitching a full-blown fit when a woman took a cell phone call during one of his poems, the most memorable element was The Futz Band. That night, there were 5 musicians—piano, bass, drums, guitar, and sax—who would offer to play behind each poet, riffing off nothing more than a list of adjectives or vignettes.
Play a lonely walk down a city street at night. Play a cocktail party. Play a dice game.
What they made out of such little information and how they kept it together was incredible.
When my turn came, I didn’t know what to tell them, so I forewent what I consider now a precious opportunity to hear what my words sound like without words.
I wish I’d known what to do with them.
And if I make it back, I swear that by then I will.