Shaking off the rust

Performing your poetry onstage isn’t like riding a bike at all, unless you’re talking about the part where your foot keeps slipping off the pedal and it bloodies your shin. I used to hate that!

When I decided last week to hit the Nuyorican for last night’s slam, I figured it’d be a fun, low-pressure show where I’d be able to comfortably continue my slow return to writing and performing. When a wave of nausea and jangling nerves hit me around 5:15pm, I was tempted to change my mind and go have a drink instead. Nevertheless, I stuck to my plan, walking all the way there from work with the thought that it would be give me time to clear my head, but it only gave my mind more time to race and my nerves more time to jangle. I ended up stopping in at the Peculier Pub for a pint of Magic Hat #9 to steady myself, and arrived at the Café at 6:30pm on the dot, only to be reminded that “money slams” bring poets out of the woodwork and it wasn’t going to be a low-pressure affair at all!

Way more familiar faces in the house than I expected, including Jamaal St. John and his wife, neither of whom I’d seen in years; a few people I didn’t know who recognized me from 13; Miguel Algarin who didn’t recognize me at all and I didn’t bother to remind him, simply saying it was great to see him there at the Café, which it was. Lynne was supposed to be there to slam, but couldn’t make it, and Cory came out to support, which was cool as it helped to have a friendly, non-competing face there to ground me. (She and Luis have been incredibly encouraging over the past few months, without even realizing they’ve been doing so, kind of filling the roles Bassey and Peter used to play back in the day.)

26 poets, one round, 3:30 time limit, 3 judges, one of whom was someone I’d crossed swords with back in the day over issues surrounding the nycSLAMS CD and unauthorized video. I went from being extremely nervous during the first 5 or 6 poets; to being mildly annoyed by the sameness of much of the poetry (both in the context of the slam itself and the larger context of the scene over the past 10 years); to getting a flash of competitiveness where I was seriously considering tweaking my old “Why I Slam…” poem and calling some people out by name for shucking and jiving; to really just wanting it to be over by the time my name was finally drawn to read. I ended up doing a low-key, on-page reading of “Behind the Music” and got what I’m pretty sure was the lowest score of the slam, a 25.9, which was fine and not entirely unexpected as the judges were favoring the loud and quippy and I was more like tepid and subtle, relatively speaking.

I’m glad I went, though, because there were definitely some standout poems that were worth hearing, some younger voices with a lot of potential, and, in all honesty, just being at the Nuyorican again without any drama hanging over the moment made for a refreshing, low-key homecoming. It was also good for me to read on a mic outside of 13, where I feel comfortable enough to do whatever so it’s not really a challenge to read there and at this stage, I need to keep challenging myself until writing becomes a more natural thing again.

I’m definitely not ready for slamming outside of 13 yet, though. The competitive aspect pushes all the wrong buttons for me right now and I don’t want to be tempted into shifting my writing in that direction. Been there, done that, have the trophy.

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