South by Spoken Word
No Slam, Thank You, Ma'am
In past years, the South by Southwest spoken word showcase has been a red-letter day for Austin spoken word. With the exception of April's annual Austin International Poetry Festival, there's no one event that brings a bigger collective of poets to Austin from other destinations.
This year that's not the case. The showcase, which will be held at Mojo's Daily Grind (2714 Guadalupe) for the third year in a row, will fill two nights with a group of readers that includes some of the most notable poets on the slam and performance poetry circuits. But because the National Poetry Slam will be held in Austin this upcoming August, the lineup will serve as, in the words of showcase coordinator Mike Henry, "a movie trailer for the big show."
Speaking of movies, Paul Devlin's SlamNation, a candidate in this year's SXSW Film documentary competition, may bring a few last-minute additions to the lineup. According to Devlin, whose film chronicles the 1996 National Poetry Slam in Portland, slam founder Marc Smith and veteran slam poet Daniel Ferri, both from Chicago, are making plans to visit Austin for the screening, and if they're here, Henry wants to include them into the schedule.
Although there's no slam component to this year's showcase - there'll be plenty of slam to go around come August - Henry says, "The showcase will give the audience an opportunity for slammers to work with much more than three minutes. They'll be reading in front of their peers, so they'll be just as conscientious as they are in competition, but it's a chance for them to show off a wider range of their work. Plus, it'll give the audience a chance to see each poet build on his or her own poems, whereas in a slam, each poet builds on other people's poems. You'll definitely see some of these people again in August, but not quite like this."
OPEN MIKE: Once again, your chance to perform at SXSW, provided you have written work to share and the courage to sign up on the list. Open mike culture, crucial to the development of new talent in any scene, is enjoying salad days in Austin through several coffeehouse series, and Mojo's, providing the coffee to kickstart a number of local writers, is a natural place to stage them. (8pm)
ERNIE CLINE: There's been a recent infusion of new talent in the Austin Slam, and Cline is their clown prince. His work is relentless and rapid-fire, punctuated with both comic timing and comic revelation, covering topics from the mundane job interviews to wondering what it might have been like if Jesus came back as a freshman at Ohio State. (8:30pm)
GLOSSO BABEL: As they did last year, the Austin-based word and music troupe holds down the 9pm slot with a careful intermingling of song and speak. They continue to be one of the hardest-working, best-known, and most-dedicated poetry units in town, and their array of unusual instruments gives poetry reading an added dimension of curiosity shop. (9pm)
KEN HUNT: The ex-Austinite, in his three years here, not only delivered some of the most immaculate poetry on the scene, but was also one of the most daring and memorable performers in the Performance Art Church, a group which certainly has no lack of over-the-top characters. Now based in snowy Madison, WI, Hunt's return promises work that is edgy, often political, and always smart. (10pm)
WAMMO: It's been the biggest success story of SXSW Spoken Word so far. Wammo's 1996 performance at the festival led to Mouth Almighty, the spoken-word division of Mercury Records, releasing his Fat Headed Stranger album. Always in tune with whatever audience is before him, Wammo is, to audiences throughout the nation, the embodiment of Austin's eclectic, boisterous energy. (10:20pm)
MICHELLE TEA: She helped mastermind last year's all-lesbian Sister Spit national tour, and is a clever, witty storyteller whose candor makes her that much more real and compelling. The current San Francisco scene features a number of writers who deal in confident truths, and Tea pulls it off with an inclusive style and an exacting attention to detail. (10:40pm)
SINI ANDERSON: Another veteran and co-conspirator of the Sister Spit tour, Anderson is an engaging and visceral performer who deals in difficult topics and tough approaches. While never immediately confrontational, Anderson's perceptual skills and force of delivery raises the stakes of any reading she's in, and the wisdom she imparts makes the shake-up well worth it. (10:40pm)
TAYLOR MALI: He's been the captain of both the 1996 and 1997 National Poetry Slam championship teams, which might indicate that Mali has slam down to a science. Maybe so, but in understanding what a slam audience will respond to, he's developed art alongside science, which means, in this setting, he'll deliver a set of polished, crafted poems with easy accessibility and clear resonance. (11:20pm)
ELLEN MAYBE: Her name derives from her shyness; at early L.A. coffeehouse readings, she'd sign up as "Ellen (Maybe)," not sure that audiences would want to hear her work. Given her upcoming book from 2.13.61 and her charmed new fans at last month's Albuquerque Poetry Festival, it's clear people want to hear her. Her unique delivery, presence, and quirky take on life make her an absolute joy to experience, and her sincere appreciation of those who respond positively - as they should - is utterly refreshing. (11:50pm)
CHRIS CHANDLER: The Georgia-based spoken word artist and slam veteran is part poet and part troubadour, having packed up his trusty dog and his guitar in a pickup truck for the better part of five years. Austin is a frequent destination for Chandler, and performance poet fans know that Chandler always brings a concentrated, manic energy to the stage. (12:10am)
SIX DEGREES OF FREEDOM: This Dallas-based troupe marries rap, poetry, and jazzy instrumentation to deliver the latest update on Growing Up Black In America. Pulling from pop culture as well as political material and revised history, they create a text that piques poetics as well as asking still-necessary questions, and expand its reach through precise performance. (12:40am)
OPEN MIKE: This round of open mike will be hosted by Genevieve Van Cleve, the reigning Austin Poetry Slam champ, who currently hosts the Austin Poetry Slam and performs with the Monks' Night Out improv comedy team. Improv has only sharpened her abilities for the snappy comeback and for thinking on her feet, and while she's a gregarious, committed host, her wit makes her not only entertaining, but virtually heckle-proof. (8pm)
SUSAN B. ANTHONY SOMERS-WILLETT: Her spot on the 1997 Austin Poetry Slam Team is evidence of her performance abilities, and her craft is arguably the best-rendered and best-articulated of any Austin poet. In a town whose performance poetry scene is largely known for humorous anecdote, Somers-Willett's socially aware content and intelligence makes her a distinctive and necessary member of Austin's slammers. (8:30pm)
JESSE SUBLETT: A punk-rock icon from the era between Cosmic Cowboys and True Believers, Sublett has sidestepped from writing music to writing a series of mysteries and writing about rock music. Part of last year's spoken-word festival, Sublett returns to the Mojo's stage to dig out more from his cornucopia. (9pm)
DAYVID FIGLER: One of the funniest performance poets in the nation, Figler has an unusual background (born and raised in Las Vegas) and day job (lawyer) for a poet. But he also has a knack for comic timing and an eye for pop culture, and is an instrumental player in a poetry scene with one of the most enthusiastic audiences in the country. (9:20pm)
CLEBO RAINEY: This Dallas-based poet has extensively toured the country in the past few years, combining a brash delivery and an on-stage confidence with work that grabs you by the collar and refuses to let go. Austin audiences know the drill: He'll show slides, he'll turn up the volume knob, and he'll come off stage wearing less than he did when he started. (9:40pm)
ORDAINED IN LYRICS: Currently a duo featuring Dallas slam poet GNO and self-published novelist Emotion Brown, OIL has a revolving cast with an established mission - to feature the black experience, both in history and contemporary life, with poetry, humor, and a backbeat. At last year's National Poetry Slam, GNO was the biggest surprise of a very surprising Dallas team, countering the brash exuberance of the other three members with a cool, witty, deadpan approach. (10pm)
KENN RODRIGUEZ: This longtime veteran of the Albuquerque slam scene is one of the most honest, down-to-earth performance poets in the region, if not the nation. Although he's learned much about the art of performance, his direct approach eschews polish for heart, and he deals adeptly with social issues, whether it be through wry humor or emotional pleas to do the right thing. (11pm)
SPIKE GILLESPIE: An Austin institution, Gillespie has carved out a career as a freelance writer through tenacity and her high level of observational skills. Her poetry takes her ability to scan and analyze to an even higher level, pulling candor, humor, and skillfully written truths and near-truths into the mix, bolstered by the craft that comes from writing in order to eat. (11:20pm)
BETH LISICK: How do I love thee? Easy one to answer, for her judicious, crafty, and rapid-fire writing, combined with her distinctive, flamboyant delivery, makes Lisick one of the most accomplished, and even revolutionary, performance poets around. Lisick takes her brilliant Monkey Girl on San Francisco's Manic D Press, full of caustic, thoughtful takes on the life of a witty city girl, for another well-deserved spin around the Austin block. (11:40pm)
ALBUQUERQUE POETRY EXPERIMENT: As with all his ensembles, Danny Solis hates to be the one singled out for attention. But his presence as a member of the '96 Austin Poetry Slam Team helped the local spoken word scene evolve from a fresh, new collective of poets to one of the premier performance poetry scenes in the nation. With this latest ensemble, Solis continues to show that his brand of schooling emphasizes performance skills, a fearless presence, and a dedication that treats poetry as something surpassing mere entertainment. (Midnight)
SHAPPY: When a newspaper reporter in his native Chicago described Shappy as a "major player," he went to town with it, smirking the praise back to everyone he came in contact with. His ability to self-efface makes him one of the purest, funniest performers around; last year, his Uber-Nerd antics sent the audience into fits of laughter that lasted for days. How he'll top last year is, looking at this year's whole lineup, one of the most joyful mysteries of the festival. (1am).