Before last night, I was a spoiled poet.
I first slammed in Raleigh, North Carolina where poetry was paired with wine and served to an audience amidst painted canvases hung on gallery walls. I slammed about love and self-discovery. Or I slammed about a recent broken heart and dreams of tomorrow.
Years later I found my way back to slam in Anchorage, Alaska when December temperatures forced this poet to look for an indoor distraction. I can still remember arriving for my first open mic competition. I parked my car outside the door and went in the brightly lit bookstore with my musings in hand, signed in and took a seat where I waited in comfort with a hopeful heart. Hopeful there would be enough poets to make the evening fun. Hopeful my poetry would bring a smile to someone’s face. Hopeful I might even win the title of 2009 Alaska Writer’s Guild Slam Champion – which I did that year and the next.
Spoiled in so many ways.
Last night in New York City the line was already forming outside the Nuyorican Poets Café an hour before the doors were scheduled to open. Three or four poets stood waiting for one of twenty spaces. My idea to go for coffee and save fifteen minutes in the freezing temps didn’t seem like a terrible decision until my girlfriend and I came back and the line had doubled four times over.
And yet it was still impossible for this spoiled poet to imagine twenty poets among those gathered. Just as it was impossible for me to conceive of poets arriving by taxi to join people ahead of me, potentially taking my place. The price of my coffee escalated with each passing moment as poet after poet arrived and did just that.
Finally inside the tiny brick building with poor lighting, erratic heat, cramped seating, too loud music, out-of-order bathrooms and with four poets still ahead of me in line – I learned my fate. The list was full except for a few spaces and those would be picked from a lottery.
My last spoiled hope was now in a clear plastic cup.
As 10 o’clock slowly became midnight the poetic voices ranged from angst on a microphone (a trial to endure) to 2011 National Champion (a joy to experience). We put on our coats at poet #18, hoping to lessen the chance of waiting on a cab when all was said and done. At poet #19 we made our way to the back of the room, still listening but ready to exit. Poet #20 was called and no one approached the microphone. The clear plastic cup took center stage and another name was selected…
As I walked to the stage I no longer remembered the bone chilling cold of waiting to get in. When I scanned the audience from behind the microphone I saw only a sea of poets and listeners, no longer noticing those who cut in line. When I looked up, I forgot about the broken bathrooms behind the people leaning on the balcony rail. And as I turned and looked into the eyes of Poetic Jive, our host for the slam, I couldn’t catch my breath as my heart slammed inside my chest.
I may not have been a slam champion last night, but I performed where many great voices have been born and become great. I pushed through the panic I didn’t expect to feel and found my voice had not deserted me. I heard waves of “yes” from the audience as they responded to my truths. And I felt their applause on my back like an ocean of hands pushing me forward.
And now I’m even more spoiled.
- The poet inside (jhasmoments.wordpress.com)