Monday, July 14, 2008

Team Monterey proves Last place is the new First place

Team Monterey took sixth place Sunday — albeit out of six teams total — during the San Francisco Battle of the Bay Poetry Slam (aka the B.O.B.).

But that's not an entirely bad look for the team, of which I'm a member/coach. Team Monterey (aka Team Rubber Chicken, since we rep the Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam) went to San Francisco with the purpose of showing off the talent in our scene.

It showed brightly in the dark shadows of the city.

Six teams competed in the slam - San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose Youth Team, Sacramento and us. Ours was the only "straw team," a team that was pulled together without competition. Most slam teams are configured with members who compete in a city slam over the course of a year and accumulate points during the regular season. The top point earners are thrown into a final slam bout and the top four or five usually make the team.

Monterey has no such circuit. We just got the top poets in our slam and decided to make a playoff run.

Competing in a battle like the one in SF is a tricky deal. We were definitely in foreign territory. Most of the other Bay Area slammers have been watching one another from a close distance over a period of time. There's familiarity among the ranks.

Nobody really knew who we were or what to expect, although a few of the poets who I've met over the years graciously showed love and gave props. Special shout out to Paradox, Jay Lee, Charles Ellik, and Message One for saying what's up — Message One (and I know I'm spelling his name incorrectly, but eff it) especially had me cracking up all night, calling us "Team Pacific Grove" "Team Greenfield" "Team Carmel Valley" whenever he got a chance.

It also didn't help that we drove two and a half hours, navigating insane city traffic and hot-hot-heat, then endured a near two hour wait before the show began. It's nobody's fault, since the event was planned last minute as a replacement for the canceled Big Sur Slam.

The venue was a cramped, second-story loft-space/converted underground performance arts space called Mama Calizo's Voice Factory. It was hot and humid and packed, and the industrial fan was shut off for some poets performances, but it was a really cool venue.

The array of styles and subject matter was pretty inspirational. Among my favorites was a team piece from the Oakland crew dedicated to the working class, the two poets rhyming and stealing in tandem, a dizzying display of symmetric, explosive lyrical assault.

I was proud of our first two poets, Richard R. Best and Chloey Noonan, who got up and did their thing for the first time in a B.O.B. Though I didn't get to watch our anchor poet Jacob Tsypkin get up there, he scored a 28.6, which is a remarkably high score.

When it came my turn to perform, I was a sweaty bag of nerves and excitement. My piece, "The Wisdom to Know the Difference," begins with the line "I cannot change the world with a poem." Knowing that a room full of poets were watching, the reading was an intense exercise in playing to a room with kids gloves on.

The whole purpose of the poem was not to make fun of anyone or demean the work of poets, but to give perspective. A lot of times, slam poets (and poets in general) can get really self important.

Knowing that my poetry has some power to move people, but recognizing that a poem can't cure a disease, feed a starving child or move masses to overthrow a government was important to address.

The kicker, however, is the end, when I give a sly wink and smile and acknowledge one last time that I can't change the world with a poem. "But I can never, ever, ever, ever, let that stop me from trying."

The crowd loved it and roared its approval. As I walked off stage, a few poets gave me high fives and pounds and hugs, props all around. The scores were mid-range, I finished with a 26.9, but I scored three 8.9's. Those would have easily been 9's and above if I had not read from the page and slipped a line in the middle when I ran out of breath.

But it wasn't the scores that mattered. Team Monterey showed up to battle, and finishing sixth out of six was a great showing for us. It's always cool to rep your 'hood, and we did it Sunday night in the city.

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