The Family Vibe in Missouri
St. Louis Hosts the 2004 National Poetry Slam
By Don McIver
It's official: I've got baseball fever. In the ninth inning, the Expos hit a two run homer to tie the game, and it's extra innings. We're sitting in the cheap seats at Busch Stadium and sweat is pouring down my face. Wait, this isn't baseball fever; it's August in St. Louis. Busch Stadium is a bowl of soup, and sweat is pouring from my why-didn't-I-buzz-my-hair-this-summer head as if I'm running laps. And I'm not. I'm watching a baseball game, and I'm drinking the local brew (namely Budweiser) in St. Louis the night before the National Poetry Slam begins.
As a member of the 2004 Albuquerque Poetry Slam team, this is my third Nationals. Each year is different, but this year proved to be more unique, shall we say, than the others. Even before we got there, all signs pointed to this being the Nationals that hobbled. What it turned out to be was the Nationals (or some of it) that crashed.
Most of the events were going to be on LaClede's Landing. The Landing is the progeny of Old Town crossed with a frat party. Performing poetry for the regular crowd at the Landing was akin to having a marine recruiter at a Phish show. It wasn't a good fit, and no tinkering was going to hide the animosity the poets had for the Landing or the regular clientele had for the poets.
On our first night we performed at a bar called Crazy Louie's. It was not a performance venue, and the hastily constructed stage made it almost impossible for people sitting in the booths to see the performers. However, obscured poets were the least of the problems for the audience. The biggest problem was that there was no audience. Not only was the area not conducive to a poetry slam, but there wasn't an audience for a poetry slam.
Ultimately, the biggest lesson from St. Louis was that without the proper publicity hosting the Nationals becomes a tricky venture. The National Poetry Slam is a great show that deserves a good crowd. Poets compete all year to make a team, and then travel thousands of miles to perform their poetry for appreciative audiences. The host city must know what is happening, and must want to listen. Poetry is not a dead art, and this year, at Nationals, I heard a lot of great poetry.
Despite its faults, this year's Nationals also reinforced how family-like the experience is. Being a veteran from Albuquerque, the love and encouragement was astounding. For the first time, I felt like a member of the family. Whether it was talking with friends from the Southwest, listening to poets from the Southeast in a hotel room, or being able to do the sacrificial poem at a semi-final bout, the family vibe was in full force, and despite its faults I came back excited about next year.
Next year, not only do I get to see and hear my friends again, but I get to welcome the 2005 National Poetry Slam to Albuquerque, from Aug. 10-13, and I know we'll give it a better welcome than St. Louis did.
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