Judge.

Tonight I went to one of the preliminary rounds for one of the National Poetry Slam 2008 Bouts. You see, my friend Zoey insisted that I go and see some of these and so based on her recommendation I went to see the Denver and Albuquerque teams which was supposed to be at the Brink (under the High Noon Saloon) except when I got there they said that the schedule was wrong and that I needed to be at the Bartell. Well she said one of her friends would say hi to me so I headed over to the Bartell Theater. It was kind of funny because the door man at the Brink referred to the Capitol as city hall when giving me directions to the Bartell. I figured it out in the end.

So I get the Bartell and there are bunch of people getting directions to the Brink Lounge on account of the misinformation that had me at the wrong place too. Eventually I asked someone behind a counter if they wanted money for me to enter. The woman, knitting what I presume to be a scarf, said that she was just in charge of the food and to ask the two ladies sitting at a card table to the left. I stepped over three feet and asked two hipsters hovering over a few CD’s, a few random paper and soda’s if they wanted any money from me to enter. They said that they weren’t in charge of that and to go down the hall to someone who would take my money.

Well I walk down the hall and there are a few people standing at the door. A poem was in progress so I waited near the door until they were finished before going in. I was fully expecting someone to ask me if I wanted to pay to get in, but no one did. In fact, the MC said “Come in don’t be shy! Sit down!” Well, I’m not one to turn down an invitation so I went in and sat down.

I got to see most of the first rounds (there were two bouts apparently) and none of the teams were Alberquue or Denver so I figured it was the second bout that I was waiting for. I enjoyed listening to the poems and to the folks in the audience. Did you know people still snap their fingers in approval? There were also some woots, a few stomps and hand clapping — but my favorite by far was the “What.”

“God is a shoe lace, on the side of the road. Forgotten, neglected, dirty but still there..”

“What!”

Ha ha ha. I think that was an approval thing.

The first round ended and no one approached me. I was sort of afraid to leave and get a drink in case someone asked me for proof of my entry so I stayed put as the place started to fill up. Then the MC asked if anyone was no affiliated with the groups to be a judge. There weren’t many non affiliated bystanders like myself and so I ended up being a judge. It was after I got my dry erase board and instructions that I ventured out for some liquid courage. I figured they couldn’t kick me out after making a judge, right?

The night went fast. There were a lot of poems about race, one about love in Texas, two about the Mexican immigrant experience, the pharmaceutical industry and several about god. I’ll admit those get old fast. As do the ones where the person talks so fast that you don’t have any idea what they are talking about except for the line or two about race relations that they slow down to stoke the crowd. I judged based on creativity, presentation and originality of the poems rather than the typical knee jerk to get a reaction poems. Over all though, I think I liked the group of folks in the first bout that I didn’t judge because they were based more on personal stories and experience. I liked those. Those spoke to me and seemed more honest, beautiful and meaningful.

In the end my friend’s friend didn’t approach me. I asked two folks on the Albuquerque team if they knew my friend and they didn’t. Wait, one did but he said it was a long time ago when he was just a kid starting out. I didn’t catch his name. I also met a nice young man from San Deigo who had just started doing this four months ago – I wonder what his poem would be like. I left with my ears aching because of all the shouting and what what’s — but mostly from the woman who sat next to me who was also a judge. I can’t begin to describe how obnoxious she was — she was screaming, wooting, slamming her fists and marker onto her dry erase board, standing up and hooting — it was ear splitting and for a few brief moments thought about moving except it was a packed place and I was stuck. Even as I write this, my right ear feels a little tender.

I am going to try and make the nerd slam tomorrow afternoon but that might be a trickier because I’ll have Morella with me. It’s downtown so I would have to deal with traffic and parking. Plus, you know when Morella is around a lot of boisterous talking she wants to get in on the action and talk exuberantly too. That might or might not be funny.

There you have it. My first Poetry Slam — it was definitely an interesting experience. I wish Zoey could have made it, and even more — that I could have heard her read a poem. Maybe next year though I’m pretty sure it won’t be held in Madison again.

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