“No,” I said, “that’s not a tattoo. I went to a poetry slam last night."
My first time attending the Write About Now Poetry Slam at Avant Garden was an experience that didn’t rub off quickly. Not only did I go to the poetry slam, but I became a judge that night, too. Chibbi, the MC of the evening, came up to me after I had volunteered to be one of the judges and gotten my oversized board and marker. He asked what my Judge’s name was. I was alone and nervous, so I just said, “Tyler’s fine." By the time he got onstage to introduce us it had changed to "Tyler is fine", with hoots and hollers from the crowd. I hadn't realized the nature of it, that judges’ names are usually nicknames or inside jokes. All the other names were Latin terms for sex acts, dirty jokes, or literary references. My tame choice marked me as the new guy, and I have come back to that moment in my mind a few times, thinking of more interesting choices.
At every slam, there are five judges in all. Every judge gives a score to each poet from zero to ten. The highest and lowest scores are dropped, while the remaining three are averaged for the final score by the "voice of god", Amir Safi, WAN Poetry founder, through a microphone with an ominous echo.
Poets sign up before the slam while music plays under the guidance of DJ Tempty from a full set-up with turntables, speakers, and bright lights. The music lowers for a moment while Chibbi MC’s and explains the rules of the poetry slam:
1. Original work.
2. No props.
3. No music.
4. 3-minute time limit.
Breaking any of these rules will earn you a reminder from the "voice of god", and you will be penalized. There are possible rewards too, though, as the highest scoring poets from round one return for round two after a ten minute break. The top three winners of this round can win thirty, twenty, or ten dollars.
So they do, including Safi himself, standing on the raised porch outside, underneath the crystal chandelier and hanging vines. “Everything has a connotation and by default a definition,” he spoke into the microphone, and a few lines later, “God is a muscle we all must exercise.”
Safi, Chibbi, DJ Tempty, and all those who work with WAN Poetry have made a space where poetry and poets can flourish, a creative force, their own Eden in the city, except the name has changed to Avant Garden, and the space has changed to a patio, and the tree of life are the words that come from the poets’ own mouths.