My Fifteen Minutes: An Anecdotal History of the Golden Era of Slam Poetry
If I remember correctly, I ambled into a smoky, neon-lit joint on the periphery of civilization in the District of Columbia of yore, around the corner from the stretch patrolled by transvestites teetering on heels and desperate johns in slow jalopies. I was new in town, had five fifty in my pocket, and knew nobody. Parking myself on a barstool, I ordered a drink from a stout character sporting dreadlocks. “You ready, baby?” he asked in a stentorian tenor. “Cause it’s show time!”
Two shabby characters took the stage. One delivered an impassioned disquisition on the construction of identity, ontology and Cheeze Whiz. It was primal, electric, theatrical, occasionally meaningful, recalling Vachel Lindsay’s “Congo” or Ginsberg’s “Howl.” There was scattered applause among the malcontents who had assembled. They assembled every Monday evening. The audience, I learned, decided who would proceed to the next round. I had walked unbeknownst into a poetry gong show. By the end of the evening, the applause was louder than a circus. (The bartender, for some reason, would periodically holler, “I don’t need your money!”) The loser was booed off stage. The winner was awarded fifty bucks. Fifty bucks! I thought. What a goddamn boon!