April 12, 2011

The Night I Owned the Mic

That's right! OWNNNED!
(this picture may not seem like it belongs here cuz it was taken back in Thailand, but it really does belong here :)

I did it. I accomplished a landmark goal for me. Something I was hoping for, something I believed I could do for the first time in my life and I did it. But it did not come easily or quickly.

I already wrote about Santa Cruz and what happened at that slam and how it was more of a warm up than anything. Not only did I not come out with my best pieces, it wasn't even a full slam. Only two rounds and a one-minute time limit on the first round. I think they had time constrictions on the space they were using, ergo less of a slam than you might expect. Seattle though was a whole nother story. I went up there with full intentions of taking the gloves off and SEEING What could/would happen when I did just that, for the first time! I was there to bring my best, I was pumped, I was all UPPER CUT UPPER CUT, JAB JAB...and I got castrated.

I have not slammed in 8 or nine years, so each place I've been to thus far has taught me something. I've been analyzing the whole experience and reaping as much as I can from it to prepare myself that much more for the next chance. I assumed Seattle would be a hotspot for Slam, I expected that they would have a community and tough competition every week in the form of seasoned slam team members, and I was right. Still, I felt, no, BELIEVED the three poems I had lined up could hold their own in the face of any adversary. Well, I was right and I was wrong at the same time.

What Santa Cruz and Seattle taught me was that there are two significant hurdles I must overcome whenever I step up to a mic in unknown territory. I must overcome the local favorites and I must overcome the particular bias in that place, whatever it may be. Every place has its own bias for any number of reasons. And there's NO WAY to know what that is until you've had a chance to observe a crowd, the judges and performers in any one setting. In other words, goin in COLD Sucks. But what that all means is that I have to be THAT Much better than everybody else cuz QUALITY is the only thing that can trump those two variables. My stuff has to be SO Good that they cannot deny this stranger goin off on topics that most the performers there may not be slammin about AND possibly in a style that they don't normally hear/like either. Cuz if they CAN deny me, they will, straight up! And if I'm only just as good, or a little bit better than the house favorites, I will lose to them. Naturally. Make sense? Hope so.

Seattle was crazy! It is easily the "COOLEST" event I've been to out of the three. It was in a big darkly lit bar, with a big stage and lots of seating space and they pretty much packed it. It was well organized, well hosted, a dj playing in between performers and rounds and so on. They never missed a beat and the energy was perfect. Being that it's a weekly event, I knew the audience were probably regulars so they knew what is UP! What does that mean? Well, if you've never been to a slam, it's hard to explain, but let's just say that audience..."participation" is definitely welcome.

Think of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (if you've ever been to a live performance or screening of said show) except less rehearsed/staged. People are encouraged to respond vocally, noisily to what they hear and how they feel. They were on top of all that in the Emerald City. For me, it was dope as fuck. Think of it as LIVE Feedback the whole time you're performing, it's really cool as a performer when people tap into their Immediate reactions and just let em out. And then as an audience member it's just....it defies the prescribed conventions of formal events and performances. By doing so it allows you to relax and become a part of the experience, and even, dare I say, have fun. I strongly encourage anyone who's never been to one to give it a try. If you're in a major city, I guarantee there will be one and I guarantee you'll get your five dollars worth. AND you'll be supporting an art that is so easy and fun to support and be a part of.

Anyway, sitting there, waiting for it start, watching the open mic portion of the nite, I was stoked. This is what I would love to be a part of REGULARLY. This environment, this audience, this level of slam. People really came out for it. I had no idea how my work might be received but I was excited to find out.

The bar is called Re-bar, and according to Josh, though he had never been there before, it was kind of a gay bar, or at least gay friendly. After casing the place and seeing some of the slam contestants, I think we can more specifically describe it as a very lesbian friendly bar. There were a lot of them, a couple gays as well. But it became pretty clear as the night went on and scores went up that that is where the bias was leaning. By the end of the three rounds, the three contestants still standing were all lesbians. 2 of them were great and certainly deserved to be up there, one em had us scratchin our heads though. But hey, not only were they the local favorites, they fit the favored demographic. Coincidence? I think not.

For example there was one old guy that went up there who was clearly an experienced poet/slammer. He did an amazing piece. It was funny all the way thru, while being poignant and beautiful. Somehow this guy got a lower score than me. We looked back at the scores in disbelief. What gives? Well, that's the bias at work. It's kind of sad or frustrating sometimes but...to each his or her own. The judges are picked at random and it's totally up to their arbitrary assessment of what they just saw.

Here's my buddy's take on it, he came out to see me perform in Seattle so I wrote him to tell him what happened in Phoenix and this is what he said :)...
He didn't even stay for the whole thing and that's his (somewhat humorous) assessment of that particular scene. And yeah, the first and last points are kinda true for any slam anywhere, writing IS Cathartic, BIG TIME. But that 2nd point was definitely unique. Nevertheless, that is what I had to overcome and overcome I did not.

I got cut in the first round. Just like that, "Have a seat bub, we'll take it from here." From ten poets to five in the second round and I missed it by one. I really didn't see that coming. I know that poem isn't the best of the three I picked, it's the relative worst in fact, but I thought for sure it was good enough to get me into the second round. I was wrong. Between the three lesbians and two dudes who were all well-versed in slam, I didn't come strong enough. I did the "World Where We Don't Care" piece and I did it well, Josh and my other friend were impressed but my scores were just sorta average. Obviously.

And that really blew. Mainly because the other two pieces I was gonna do were potentially so good! And I really wanted to try em out on this crowd! Such a good crowd, such a diverse crowd, way more diversity than I'd seen elsewhere. Not to mention Josh and David who came to support me and see me do this thing I do. It sucked, but I didn't feel defeated or anything, it wasn't a blow to my self-esteem, I was just bummed that I didn't get more of a chance.

I left there feeling very unsatisfied and it did plant a seed of doubt as to whether I COULD win a slam with these pieces. And it had me thinking that maybe I'm overestimating that first piece, maybe it's not as good as I've come to think based on reactions I got in Bangkok and so on. Yo no se. Mai roo. I tried not to think about it too much. After all I did have one more solid chance to ROCK IT and prove it to myself that this can be done.

A few days later it was time to slam in Mesa. I accepted the fact that I didn't know how it was gonna turn out, but I was confident that I was at least prepared to do my best. The biggest difference between this slam and all the others was that I actually had a slew of support in the audience. It was probably the best turn out I've had to anything I've invited people to in years! In the states that is ;). Nine people came out to see me shout, and it was a helluva drive for pretty much all of em! I was stoked and impressed. Thank you all again for bein there, what a treat and what a pleasure to be able to share that with all of you. FINALLY.
(The first of my peeps to arrive)

They bore witness to one of the best nights of the whole trip and certainly a memorable night in my life. The night I won my first poetry slam! WOOHOO! Thank God I was able to put a show on for em and didn't get cut in the first round like Seattle! Lol. Man, that woulda sucked! But no, I knew that wouldn't happen, I was prepared and prepared to be flexible with the order of my poems to ensure I stayed in the cream on top. In the end though, I didn't have to change anything. I did the same three I WOULDVE done in Seattle had I been given the chance, and I did em in the same order. The difference in reception was exceptional though.

I did that first poem, the one where I'm talkin like a flight attendant, and they loved it. Got a couple tens right off the bat. It was tight. After that I did the New Years Eve poem and...yeah, I think it's safe to say that's one of the best pieces I've EVER written. Which is ironic for so many reasons! But I got some really high scores for that one too. Then I closed with a piece I'd never performed before, THE MATTER, and...it went off and went down well I think. I didn't do it perfectly, I rushed it a little, but...it's a challenging piece to do, my most challenging yet, I didn't get any tens for it, but I got a LOT of nines I think. So I definitely did consistently well.

Numbers aren't my thing, as you may know, so I wasn't exactly keepin track of scores but...there's a chance I was in the lead from one round to the next. That isn't to say I didn't have any competition though. There might not have been as MANY strong competitors at this one as there have been at the others, but by the end of the night, the poets on my heels were comin out with some really strong pieces. I WAS LOVIN IT! Great stuff, had us all up in laughter between waves of beauty and insight. What a show overall, I was proud to be a part of it, much less to take the win! Damn that is SO COOL though. To come back and win one, in the same city I sat and watched and studied and learned and got schooled in, the art of slam!

The other cool part is that all my prior experience in Mesa taught me that one of their biggest biases was against rhyme. They Did NOT Like Rhyme! All the team poets wrote in free verse, all the guest poets performed in free verse, I was one of the only people who would get up there and regularly spit in rhyme. And over time they made it clear, through judging and those who would speak to me, that they liked me, liked my content but didn't like the rhyme. Which I didn't take personal, I wrote in every form, it's not like rhyming was my "THING," the problem was and always has been...free verse is fuckin hard to memorize! I got stuff, I just never took the time to get it down. So yeah, point being, the other night, my big win...ALL RHYME baby. Every piece. In Mesa. Word.

I won't lie, that is a confidence boost I could totally use! This is still really new to me in lots of ways. I still get reasonably nervous up there. And I got really nervous after they announced me as the winner, HOLY SHIT, I was shy and speechless as can be, I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO DEAL WITH APPLAUSE! I just wanted to crawl under a hole! That is a crazy foreign substance to me, along with praise and anything else that comes with it. I am so not used that part of the experience, and I hadn't really prepared myself mentally for it either. Even though I've been vying for the win for a month now, as soon as I got it I was like a bumbling idiot! Seriously, my only regret of the night came AFTER I won.
(The host up there doin his thing)

He called me up there to give me the money and I went up there and got it and turned around and wanted to just rush back to my seat so people would stop clapping, but I knew I had to do something other than stare at the ground and scurry away, so I made a silly gesture wavin the money in the air to get a quick laugh and then beelined it for my seat. Before I could go back there though, the host said somethin about a....oh I forget what they call it, like a victory lap but with a poem instead. And THIS I was able to anticipate cuz I've seen em do it before, so I stopped and was like....alllllllll right. And I went back up to the mic, but instead of doing the one thing I shoulda done up there, I just picked a poem, went into it, did my thing and sat down! Cuz THAT'S THE ONE THING I'm good at and confident enough to do, whereas I SHOULDVE Said "HEY, THANKS FOR LIKIN MY SHIT PEOPLE! Geez, Real nice of you!" But did I say that? NO! I didn't say thanks to the audience, I didn't say thanks to the judges, it didn't even cross my mind til I finally got back to my seat cuz I was so overwhelmed and flustered by it all. What a rookie move! So disappointed in myself for that. Lame.

What I learned that night is, when it comes to me and microphones: performing pieces, no probs; AD LIBBING and just addressing the crowd, bloody hell, you would think I was King George! Especially after people were applauding me, so not cool! Lol. I need to find my inner AC Slater and Vjay the hell out of those moments! F'reeeeal!

It was QUITE awesome though. What a win. What a night. I did, after realizing my faux pas, make my way around and thank and tip my hat to my competitors and the organizers though. Some cool peeps there. It was an honor to face off with them. Kinda makes me sad that I won't get to do that on a regular basis. It's a GREAT way to hone your craft but it's also inspirational, motivational, and...humbling. Either way...I'M IN. This is something I will do for years to come. It will be a staple in my life. As time goes on, I foresee it becoming a bigger and bigger "hobby" for me, and as more times goes on it may peak and become and smaller and smaller part of my life as I move on to other things, new challenges. But I know the experience I pull from that plot line will benefit me wherever I go. I can't wait to see how many doors it makes manifest and how many I actually open.

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