Marc Cabrera has nothing better to do than watch a lot of movies and television, and listen to a lot of music. Luckily, he has a job that pays him to blog about local and national arts, entertainment and pop culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Me and my boy Frank Sanchez performing at the 1999 Big Sur Slam (that's me on the right, about 50 pounds ago!)
Spoken word poetry could be the savior of underground hip-hop!
I'm exaggerating a little bit, but it's an argument worth having. Given that "underground Hip-Hop" is either a label of defiance or a punchline, depending on who you're talking to, the spoken word has emerged as the essence of the underground, eschewing all things commercial and cliche in favor of a puritan aesthetic - no one is getting rich off of spoken word.
Not Russell Simmons, who despite launching both Def Jam Poetry on HBO and on Broadway, hasn't seen much return financially (the cable tv show and Broadway production have both been in indefinite hiatus). Spoken word's biggest star, Saul Williams, still toils on the outskirts of famedom. Luckily, his art has not suffered for it.
And so, it is with this righteous ambivalence to corporate exploitation that a show such as The West Coast Poetry Slam Championship can exist almost completely under the radar. This weekend, the 9th annual incarnation goes on as scheduled at The Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, a poet's oasis if there ever was one.
The slam championship is a Peninsula poor-man's literary event; on the same weekend rich well-to-do's will shell out hundreds of dollars for tickets to see the Bach Festival or Bill Cosby perform in a movie house, dozens of poets from up and down the left coast will converge to throw down in the woods. At stake: $2000 in prizes, along with bragging rights for Wessyde supremacy.
My homie/mentor Garland Thompson puts on the annual showcase, inviting teams from Nor and So-Cal to whip it out and see who's got the baddest verse. For those that don't know, slam poetry is a form of competitive poetry, wherein the contestants square off to see who gets judged with the highest score.
Judges, chosen randomly from the crowd, rate the poets on a scale of 1-10, taking into consideration style and content as well as performance. Poets have to be on point in both their words and their presentation, so you get skilled wordsmiths displaying Shakesperian-level performance skills.
The best part is that there is no set form, so poems can be as hype as battle raps. And that's what is so hip-hop about the event, the fact that the poets themselves can run through their verse with the same intensity of an MC going for theirs.
I've been to four of the events, and this weekend will mark my fifth appearance. This will be the first year I am not participating as either a competitor or featured poet. I'm a bit bummed, but the show must go on.
In the past, Def Jam Poets have been on display, with exciting artists like Beau Seiu, Poetri, Rives, The Suicide Kings and Mighty Mike McGee grabbing the mic. The ladies represent hardcore as well, with goddesses like Meliza Banales and Emily Kagan solidifying their reps at the championship.
So, if you're in Big Sur this weekend and you feel like being inspired, check out the slam. For more info, visit the Web site www.westcoastslam.com.