Austin Poetry Slam
Rocking the Mike goodbye
The first decade of this millennium is coming to an end. Mike Henry knows that as well as you do, but you didn't spend that decade (and the half-decade before it) running the Austin Poetry Slam. No, that was Henry, the slam master, captaining and coaching teams to national prominence, hosting the local gigs week after week, moving the scene's epicenter from the old Electric Lounge (which he used to run) to Gaby & Mo's, to Ego's, to the ND at 501 Studios (which he currently runs).
Mike Henry did that for 15 years. He didn't start the Austin Slam – "You can blame Wammo for that," he says, adjusting his specs, grinning a flash of teeth into his scruffy face – and he's not going to, as if any single person could, end the Austin Slam. But time trudges on, and, as sure as 2010 is about to leave us, Mike Henry is stepping down: from the office of responsibility, from his poster-boy status, from being so completely steeped in the scene that he sweats verse from his pores whenever he sees a microphone.
After all, the man's got a popular venue to book and run; he's got a kid to raise; he's got a lot of other things clawing for his attention.
"After 15 years, it seemed like a good number," he told the appreciative crowd at his slam-fested farewell party at the ND on Dec. 15. "I feel like I've done my bit here. ... I mean, some people sit here thinking that the Magic Slam Elves come in the night and set all this shit up. And finally you're like, 'Let's get some new Magic Slam Elves,' 'cause these ones are tired."
The night was filled with performances in the big, gorgeously lit space, with scintillating pieces from new poets and old. "See?" said Henry from the stage. "The old school is in the house tonight. And the poets you think are old-school? The poets they think are old-school are here. Like, the poets that built the fuckin' school are here."
Henry didn't seem all that tired – he seemed revved up, as revved as the long roster of slam warriors who sent the standing-room-only audience into joyful paroxysms. But, yeah, he must've been tired, short-term and long-. And with good reason:
"Almost $75,000 in prize money has come out of the program," Henry told the crowd. "Seventy-five thousand dollars for poets who've come up and shared their work! We've been busy. National Poetry Slam, we did that three times, and each time we changed that shit; don't let anybody tell you different. We left it so much better than we found it. ... This community is amazing and life-changing. The thing I'm most proud of is that we have grown over all these years to be this family." He looked out into the crowd, nodding, beatific. "My family is here tonight."
And of course that family isn't going away – nor is Mike Henry, entirely. But there's a new year coming, and a new venue with it. The Austin Poetry Slam will rumble on, with new blood refueling the old, with the fresh and the well-seasoned sounding their cadenced yawps beneath the roofs of the world, with slam master Danny Strack riding herd, and all of it starting at the United States Art Authority on Tuesday, Jan. 11.