So last night I went to the monthly Open Mike night at Jackson’s Java hosted by Jonathan Rice of Iodine Poetry Journal, just to check it out and see what I thought. I took several pieces to read and figured I’d gauge the vibe and decide what to read by how things were going. Several people were working the Valentine’s Day thing, so I decided to go in a different direction. I read “Beer Goggles,” which is a piece that currently has found no love from any of the places that I’ve submitted it to, but is very popular whenever I perform it, which just goes to show that what works on the page may have little or no connection to what works in live performance. I also did a piece called “Better Home” from Returning the Favor, which I’m always a little nervous about performing live. It requires me to sing a couple of segments of the poem, and since I can’t carry a tune in a bucket I always feel like I’m taking the audience’s life into my hands when I perform the piece. But both pieces were very well-received, and I sold three books before the night was done, so that was great! I also swapped a book with Jessie for a copy of one of her chapbooks, which is good for both of us.
Here’s a video of “Better Home” that I recorded a few nights ago in my home office.
But I had a good time at the Open Mike and will definitely be back next month. Everyone was very welcoming, very supportive, and generally very good. I was concerned about the quality when I first arrived, because it’s hard to know going in what the level of suck will be at any open mike event, but there were only a few people all night that I thought couldn’t really write, and one of the best ways for them to improve is to be exposed to better writers. Several folks weren’t terribly good performers, but I might be a little bit of a snob there, with 20 years of theatre in my background. But most people were pretty good, and one girl in particular did a slam-style memorized piece that was just beautiful and made me wish I’d done video of the whole night so I could catch her performance.
She was one of only two people of color at the event, and it only reinforced the sense I’m developing about where poetry is sitting today. It seems like white people write their stuff down and read it out loud, while brown people tend to memorize their stuff and perform it. My friend Q is a member of the Charlotte Slam Team, and has been to the National Poetry Slam several times, and he’s one of the best poets I know. But I don’t know that he submits stuff to magazines and websites because I don’t know how much his stuff works in a written format. Watching him perform is fantastic, but if there’s no bridge between slam poetry and traditional written poetry, where is it all going to go? There are a lot of poetry events all around Charlotte every week, but they all seem to happen at clubs (and too late for me on school nights) that cater to a more typically African-American crowd. So I guess here’s my question – is performed poetry a “black thing” nowadays? Does that leave written poetry to be a “white thing?” And where does that leave people like me, white folks who are performers and writers? Is there a middle ground to bring the slam poets and the written poets together?
I hope all that doesn’t get me in John Mayer-esque trouble, but it’s kinda where my head is at with trying to figure out how to make poetry more vital to people’s everyday life.