“The more energy you give the poets, the more they give back to you!”
The Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Avenue, looked decorated by the Irish Republican Army: flags, posters of griffins, Che Guevara, Guiness ale, and in faux Celtic script, “No revolutionary movement is complete without its poets.”
A workshop led by Jaz Sufi started the evening. “If you write, you have already won.” One participant wrote his poem on the spot!
“Sign-up closes when I stop counting 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – sprint!”
White guy in the spotlight: “Chattering in my head gets pretty loud, but the radio gets louder.”
“This loud turns the highway into a black scream.”
Black with rasta braids: “Three blocks down from the crack house. We’d punch back at everything without running home.”
“When the crying’s done there’s no weeping in my tree house.”
The raucous nightclub filled with 110-plus students and twenty-somethings, a few older, almost half male, one third people of color. “Berzerkley SLAM” in crazy gold letters across dark green curtains.
White blonde: “To the men and women with whom I have slept, I call my mental health a work-in-progress.”
“I’ve gotten so good at the word ‘yes.’ By twenty my ‘yes’ was as slobbery and wet as my favorite dog’s tongue.”
Open-and-shut demonstrations of the truism, “Poetry is a vehicle for consciousness.” Youth working out issues with family, relationships, politics, race, history, identity, gender. Each poet got three minutes or points were subtracted.
Another white woman, from a smart phone: “He’s my adrenaline, my steroids, my methamphetamine. I’m like a cat on steroids.”
“He says he can read me, but he’s reading his OCD!”
White woman, from memory: “A chest overflowing with feelings we never cleaned out.”
“Darker than the corners of my N.Y. City apartment.”
Jaz Sufi read the cards held up around the room, “I have a 6, a 6.2, 7.0, 7.0, 8.7.” She pushed up her pink sunglasses and explained, “Judges take art and put a number on it.” With what qualifications? “Who would like to be a judge? Let me rephrase. Who would like a free drink?”
The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.
AmerIndian woman: “Burn the retinas of the reservations of my mind.”
“When I first opened your book, a tomahawk hit my hand.”
Young black man: “When my father says ‘bitch’ he means everything that’s tried to destroy him.”
“Either heal or die. If he windmilled his arms hard enough….”
The highest-scoring poets go to the second round and, close to midnight, the winner pockets some cash.
“If you don’t cheer for good poetry, I will read you some bad poetry!” Jaz Sufi screamed. “Give it up for the poets! These poets pour out their hearts for you!”
Will the same happen next week? Go to berkeleypoetryslam.wordpress.com and make a guess.
(This entry originally appeared as a column in the Berkeley Times June 25 2015 print edition.)