Three Minutes To Poetry

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Big Sur may seem a long way from Salinas, but if you’re prepared to make the drive down there this weekend (and the scenic drive down Highway 1 is an experience in itself) you will have the chance to see a truly unique event.  The West Coast Poetry Slam will be taking place at the Henry Miller Memorial Library, and will feature spoken word performances, live DJ-ing and lots of fun and surprises.

For the uninitiated, a poetry slam is “the competitive art of performance poetry.”  Poets have three minutes to read their work aloud and are judged by a panel drawn from the audience by the event’s host.  At the Slam this weekend, teams of poets from around the country will be competing for cash prizes, the winner getting $1000, and the second, third and fourth prizes being $500, $300 and $200 respectively. 

Poets are free to present work in any style on any subject, so you might hear romantic love poetry, scathing social commentary, hilarious comedy, and bittersweet personal confessional pieces within the same event.  The three-minute time limit keeps things moving and ensures that you are constantly hearing something new.  Audience participation is encouraged, and members of the audience vocally and openly to all aspects of the show, including the poet’s performance, the judges’ scores, and the host’s banter.

For the third year running, the Slam will be hosted by Jerry Quickley, one of the United States’ most respected performance poets.  Originally from New York, Quickley currently resides in Los Angeles, where he recently completed a successful run of his one man show, “Live from the Front: Petrol and Protein.”  The show is based on his experiences as an independent journalist covering the current war in Iraq for LA radio station KPFK.  Quickley has also performed on the HBO special “Def Poetry Jam” and the PBS documentary series “Senior Year.”

Providing the music this year is DJ Jedi, resident turntablist of the Def Poetry Jam tour.  Over the course of the weekend, he will be doing live scratching and mixing to give a musical backdrop to the event. Jedi became famous in the Los Angeles hip-hop and spoken word community for his DJ work at clubs like Da Poetry Lounge, and has played at some of the city’s top venues including the House of Blues and the Knitting Factory.  Although primarily a hip-hop artist, Jedi’s work draws from a wide range of sources including funk, rock and jazz.

The West Coast Poetry Slam is organized by local poet, actor and playwright Garland Thompson Jr.  He has toured the US and Europe as a poet and has appeared in theatrical productions across the country.  Most recently, he played Simon Stimson in the Western Stage’s production of Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town.”  Thompson runs the regular Rubber Chicken Poetry Slam at Morgan’s Coffee and Tea in Monterey, where several of the contestants in this weekend’s Slam have been perfecting their act.  Of the upcoming event this weekend, he says “It’s going to be an incredibly fun event and a great way to hear people express themselves in different ways.”

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, July 15, 2004

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