Shout Out: A Night of Slam Poetry

This weekend, I was lucky enough to attend an all-ages, free slam poetry event put together by One Book One New Orleans and Dillard University Library. My 12-year-old son and I went with friends, and I think we all came away amazed and invigorated by the talented poets who performed.

Chuck Perkins, host of The Conscious Hour on WBOK 1230AM and the owner of Cafe Istanbul (which hosts slam open-mike nights every Monday evening) MC’d, reading, performing, and singing his poetry. Amazing, powerful stuff. I’m a new fan. Catch him perform in New Orleans.

Talented young poets approached the open mike with courage and skill. Dillard students and a couple of high school kids inspired, drawing response and applause from the audience. Each poet reached deeply into topics of identity, violence, incarceration, race, and survival and presented highly polished poetry with passion and flow.

A surprise highlight was the gift for all attendees of Clint Smith’s new book, Counting Descent. (Check out his recent article about James Baldwin in the New Yorker.) I devoured the book when I got home and am in awe.

Smith writes lyrically, musically, with rhythm and rhyme, yet in easily accessible language, conveying layers of hope and despair, anger and joy, humor and gut-punch seriousness, often within the same poem. Check out the closing lines from “what the cicada said to the black boy”:

you think these swarms are for the fun of it?

i would tell you that you don’t roll deep enough


but every time you swarm they shoot

get you some wings son

get you some wings

I was sorry to have missed Smith reading in New Orleans, but I hope to catch him the next time he comes through. Until then, I highly recommend his book.

After an evening of brave, invigorating poetry, I found myself returning to my own work, poems that I’d put on the back burner or had been afraid to put into the world. Every once in a while, it’s helpful to hear other poets to remind me why we write–and why it’s important to share–our poetry.

Thanks, @One BookOneNOLA, the generous people at Dillard University library, and to the inspiring poets who performed.