Poetry is like a swoon with this difference: It brings you to your senses.
-Charles Bernstein, poet and essayist
A man in a black suit walks up to the mike. Facing the cramped room of about 50 or so intent onlookers, he erupts in an animated poetic delivery as he strides dramatically across the floor.
“My brain hurts, it swells!” he exclaims, without notes. “It squirts, it jerks, it lurks! At all the women I see… Seven years of fears and tears and lies! …In the end it’s just an American dream.”
It’s Sunday night, chilly and raining, and I’m at a slam. I’m inside the quaint Maui Booksellers shop in Wailuku, and I’m eyeballing the chocolate cake on the counter of the tiny cafe in back but am too afraid to lose my seat once I get up. The place is packed.
Apparently, the indie bookstore has been hosting these poetry slams for the past 11 Sundays. What the hell have I been doing? This is the stuff of nouveau intellectual urban culture that I long for! And yet, every Sunday I spend in some dive bar or holed up at home watching Project Runway marathons.
Oh, but I be lookin’ fabulous in my Paris Hilton-inspired neon-green shirred smock while sitting in a swivel chair at the Hang Loose!
So the deal with tonight is that it’s a preview for the big “We Got Issues” Rant Fest they’re hosting next Sunday on March 5. It’s going to be much like tonight, only with Makawao-based Inner Ocean Publishing looking for young women to express themselves about an issue—more specifically, an issue related to money, health, spirituality, motherhood and violence—by way of poetry, prose, song or whatever creative outlet tickles your fancy.
Got a haiku about compulsive shopping? How ‘bout an OCD jingle or a lactation limerick? Wanna discuss your recent transgression into the faith of Discordianism with a 28-line Shakespearean sonnet? Come on down!
So anyway, after the man in black does his thing, a modest-looking woman in glasses busts out a rap about Dick Cheney; a somber, mustached man in a leather jacket reads his poem about babysitting for a hooker; a silver-coiffed lady with lovely British diction charms with her garden-influenced poetry; and a stocky businessman in an aloha shirt performs an ode to exes—a poem titled “Spurned Exes” read simply, “Woke this morning, took a shit, thought of you.”
But there are other poignant moments. I get a little choked up when a jovial 48-year-old Carolina-born man with a booming voice reads his “When They Call Me the N-Word (it used to make me cry)” piece. And I feel the young, heartbreaking angst of a pixie-like girl with a shaved head who reads a harrowing, emotionally honest piece about drinking, alienation and the insecurity of growing up.
But thankfully, all that poignancy is interspersed with hilarity, as white-ponytailed slam-regular Frank Rich has us giggling with his “I’d like to thank the Academy” speech, comically expressing his displeasure at the loss of artistic vision—and real acting—in film these days, due in no small part to the number of awards shows industry people must attend.
A vibrant woman named Bernice riles the crowd with a powerful and inspiring “We All Began as Afrikan” call and response, followed by young Melissa with the blue-violet hair, who nervously releases her heartfelt “Movement” poem in long lyrical flow, seemingly in one breath. And then Jarrell, an obvious and natural thespian, quite theatrically performs an entertaining existential soliloquy—and not at all Popeye-esque—of “I Am What I Am.”
In all, there are an impressive 22 contestants performing their unique literary verse. But it’s acclaimed local playwright, artist and activist Pat Masumoto who eventually wins over the crowd, judges and $100 cash prize with her passionate encouragement to “let that dark side come around.
“Reality and sensitivity don’t mix!” she begins, with proper poetic cadence. Then, upon ending, the petite poet with the sweet smile gives her rapt audience an intense, effective and entirely convincing glare.
“I’m a bitch and I spit on the slimy sidewalks of society.”
Samantha Campos once performed a rap called “Free Willy,” which took place at a political rally in front of UC Santa Cruz in the summer of ’96 and raised important issues concerning the true identity and sexual orientation of William Shakespeare. MTW