Last Sunday evening, I was rushing to find an artist’s date for the week. Luckily I remembered while looking for ideas the weekend before, that the Green Mill had a slam poetry night that Sunday. I checked to see if it was a regular thing, and sure enough, it was! I’d always meant to go since I moved to Uptown, and it was only a ten minute walk for me.
When I first walked in, I didn’t know what to expect. My focus was initially on the dim lighting, the hum of conversations from the booths, the people seated at the bar. I circled the bar and became frantic as I realized all the seats were taken. I gave a sigh of relief as I found folding chairs leaning against one of the tables, and sat myself at the end of the bar. Now, I was able to focus on the nostalgic feel of a bar from another era, the walls in faded golds like an old movie theater. I could truly see myself in the 1940’s. A waitress interrupted me to let me know I was blocking the waitress area, and seated me at the end of the front row tables. I got a clear view of the front stage, where a jazz band was playing beneath a “Green Mill” sign in green light up cursive letters. My heart skipped at the thought that maybe I had come at the wrong night, that the website had been outdated and this was actually jazz night. As a precaution, I asked the woman next to me if this was in fact slam poetry night. I’m glad I did, because not only did she reassure me, but she also introduced me to the scene. It turns out Julia was one of the organizers, and that this week’s theme was the “French Connection.” People from France actually flew in to participate in poetry night! I was in awe. It was nice to make a friend to talk to and laugh with, and who welcomed me to the community. Julia is a woman in her forties, with short layered hair and a smile that lights up her whole face. Her laugh is infectious, and she reaches out to touch your shoulder when she gets excited and wants to tell you something.
It was interesting because I was sitting so close to the guy next to me that I couldn’t reach into my pocket without bumping into him. I apologized and got embarrassed, and after that I could tell that he kept wanting to talk to me throughout the show. I overheard him speak french, and thought he might be a part of the French Connection. It wasn’t until the second intermission that he did. He sat down next to me and segued smoothly into conversation, which was good because I felt awkward. I found out he was a French Brazilian who had lived here in Chicago for four years, and saw him in a different light. He had side-swept hair, glasses, and a trace of a mustache on his upper lip. He also had a bit of an accent. He wants to move to a different country, and since he has a lot of friends in Africa, he thinks he will go to Tanzania and some other places. I wish I could so easily say that I was moving to a different country. After finding out I came here alone, he also added me on Facebook to let me know if he and his friends were going to any more shows, as he used to go alone too. He mentioned being nervous about his poem about the CTA, and hoping the judges were from Chicago or it might not make sense. I was confused before I realized that he was participating in a slam poetry contest.
People here were friendly in general, as during the first intermission, when the seats cleared between us, one of the girls from the open mic slid over next to me and introduced herself. She had short poofy sand colored hair, a red infinity scarf, and a lovely smile. She said she was born in France and “moved over here when I was just a tadpole.” I remember her poem was something about pink flamingos rising from the grass with their consumer farts. It was fascinating to me how many new people I was drawing in simply for existing, not ever for doing a reading. It did seem like this was a community where old timers knew all the words to the intro songs and the ending songs, and newcomers were welcomed alike.
The night was broken up into three parts: open mic poetry, French and English translation performance groups, and slam poetry contest.
Open mic opened with a “virgin” reader named Samantha. She opted to use the band, which plays along to the beat of the poem, and told them to play something spooky Halloween-y to match her poem that says Trick or Treat a lot in it. Next, a more seasoned older man with a white beard wanted to read about Chicago violence and blood on the streets. “We’re off to a great start,” the host joked. Next was a woman named Emily, also a long timer, who made a poem based on a conversation she had with a French painter who had survived the Holocaust. Among the first timers was also a girl who lived in Seattle, who quit her job and moved to Chicago because she had a dream that told her to come here. There was an African American who read about the current political state and a relationship with girl. There was an old timer Hispanic who was allowed to read two poems, both seeming to revolve around bilingual speech, love and music. There was also a funny Polish guy who asked for gypsy Fleetwood Mac polka music, as his first memory revolved around listening to Fleetwood Mac with his dad. He read about the first memory of his father, who he thought was going to heaven, hell or prison. He was worried about his boy’s first memory, but decided that either way it wouldn’t matter, because they would remember singing to Pantera, the way he had listened to Fleetwood Mac with his father.
Part Two was an overlapping performance of English laced with French, where they spoke lines between and over one another in order to do both language versions of the poem.
Part Three involved the slam poetry contest. The first guy was Zee. His words went very well with the music, as though they had rehearsed, and he spoke about his blue jeans and how “I’m leaving” the girl. Next was Bruno, who read about “Just another day in the CTA.” The third was the winner, an older man with glasses who request French cabaret music in honor of the French guests. His was very comical, about birds love making going “COO COO” and at one point he scared us all when he said he’d shoot them and go “BANG BANG BANG.” “COO COO.” The next was called the laptop poet, speaking of meditation with an ambient music background, before he got snapped off stage. The last was a stout blonde girl who wanted French war music, as her poem concerned this time period.
In all, I’d say it was a very successful artist’s date!