In the mid-1980 a Chicago construction worker named Marc Smith was organizing an open-mic poetry night at the Green Mill, an Uptown jazz club once famous for its association with Al Capone. Smith had selected the venue because he hated poetry readings--they were far too genteel. He wanted to turn his evening into a knock-down competition between bards, and the Poetry Slam was born.
Poetry Slams caught on nationwide, but the form exalted what poets put on the stage rather than what they put on the page. Many critics believed work that played well as performance was often poor prose.
Dayna Rouse, a 21-year-old customer service rep for Cingular Wireless, isn't interested in such highfalutin distinctions. After attending some staid poetry readings at local coffee shops and bookstores, she decided to start a new group, the Live Poet's Society, to provide a "more comfortable setting," where poets are "able to express our feelings rather than candy-coat them and cover them up." Under her pen name--"the Angry Poet"--she wants to recite lines like these in public, concerning certain worshippers in "God's ever so holy Church":
When they step outside the sanctuary,
The first words out of their mouths are these:
"Did you see that shirt on Mrs. Smith . . . it didn't match her britches!
Next week at fellowship, it's her turn--I always do those stupid dishes."
"We wanted to be able to do anything with absolute creative freedom in a poetry group," explains Michael Hart, a dog groomer and retiree from the Missouri Public Defender's Office. Hart's been a poet "on and off" for the last 40 years. "Whether it's an uncensored, adult-oriented presentation, or whether it's religious or political, there would be no stops placed upon us by angry customers or corporate disapproval from management so that poets and songwriters can come together and do their thing."
Autumn Night, a home-schooled 17-year-old from Hilsboro, joined the group and came up with a nom de plume because his real name was too intimidating: Dylan Thomas. "The Live Poet's Society is completely anything goes," he says.
"We would draw the line at violence though," interrupts Hart.
"We're planning some fund-raisers with Poetry Slams in order to draw people in," says Rouse. "They can be a part of our group, whether by listening or performing."
Performance is the key word for these writers. Their poems are more like scripts, which only come to life when heard by others.
The Live Poets Society convenes this Friday night from 6 to 10 at the Space, 830 S. College. Hart promises free banana, peanut butter, and honey sandwiches for the first to arrive. For more information, call 370-7103.