Children of Slam: LA Poets Talk Hard
by Ratpack Slim
Ask people in LA who go to spoken word shows or poetry slams what makes them so special and they'll let you in on the secret: poets put on three-minute shows and spit the most thoughtful pop songs you've ever heard; they make music with their mouths and they preach like it's revival time. Lovers become superlovers; revolutionaries hop on the soapbox and scream, 'cause they can't take it anymore, at least for three solid minutes. In a poetry slam, men and women launch their thoughts, hopes and dreams out into the universe for approval, and someone gets to score them on a scale of 1 to 10. It's an art form that keeps the poet relatively humble and the audience always urging for more.
I moved to L.A. in 1996 from the Midwest, as wide-eyed as the kid in every movie like that. And in this city, I found one of the most diverse groups of people, loaded with drive and talent, countless numbers of them all heading in the same direction: Hollywood. But what happens when all these hard-working superstars-to-be stop being polite and start getting their verse on? What if gifted actors-musicians-emcees found something in the re-emergence of the LA spoken word scene and wanted to do that too? LA poets have been accused of being heavy on style and light and substance, an attack that has been flung at Angelinos before as well. Be warned: The poets profiled in this series have got substance for days.
I discovered spoken word in Los Angeles when an enchanting California girl took me to the Greenway Court Theatre off of Fairfax and Melrose. It was a Tuesday in 2000; the event was a weekly poetry open mic called "Da Poetry Lounge." Inside was the spirit of hip-hop, the love of the word, and to an ex-actor/writer/emcee, it was heaven. It was at Da Lounge where I first encountered many of the poets you will learn about in this series. The performers were impressive - and intimidating. I have heard countless stories from the mouths of fellow poets about how they went to Da Lounge and just sat and watched for months before they ever had the guts to get up on stage and share their words. I stand by these stories. I sat back too.
The longer I have been on the poetry scene, the more I have recognized that there are pockets of poets everywhere in this city. You can't talk about literary poets and not mention Venice. Leimert Park has a rich history of poets who educate and create community with words and passion. An amazing poet named Besskepp has created one of the longest running open mics in the Inland Empire called A Mic and Dim Lights and cultivated a new breed of poets repping Pomona and beyond with a B-boy stance. On the outskirts of Culver City, an open mic called Green boasts a deejay and a beat boxer as two-thirds of its host package. Everyone has their opinion on the regionalism of the Los Angeles poetry scene, but facts are facts: Da Poetry Lounge gets 200-400 audience members to show up every week to listen to people reading poems. In the Internet and TiVo age, that's pretty impressive.
Although the five poets in this series do not necessarily compete in poetry slams full-time anymore, they all rose to prominence via the slam scene and have spring-boarded their successes within the national community to larger and varied stages. You may have seen any of them on shows like HBO's "Russell Simmons' Def Poetry"." Or singing somewhere. Or in a commercial. A generation growing up on hip-hop, their spoken word and their hustle is as indebted to LL Cool J or Rakim as it is to Pablo Neruda or Sonia Sanchez. They know the power of the oral tradition. And the best way to find out about them is, of course, in their own words.
Ratpack Slim Biography
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the poet born as Rob Sturma became Ratpack Slim in 2000, when he stepped into the doors of Da Poetry Lounge in Hollywood and fell in love with all things spoken word. He has been on slam teams three years consecutively, having co-hosted the Los Feliz Slam during its run, and making it to the finals stage of the National Poetry Slam in 2005 with Team Hollywood. He has contributed extensively to the website getunderground.com as a poet, a journalist, and for a while, as the poetry editor. He has performed everywhere in LA from coffeeshops to comic book shops to campuses to clubs, sharing the stage with such diverse luminaries as DJ Z-Trip, Saul Williams, and Sage Francis. He was featured on BET's "The Way We Do It" and in the documentary "Sp!t".
He hosts a weekly poetry open mic called Green, every Monday at the Palmer Room in Culver City with Emmy Award winning DJ Jedi and acclaimed beatboxer Joshua Silverstein. He has two new chapbooks available; You Sensitive Bastard and Nerdplay. He lives in LA with his roommates and his extensive collection of media.
to see web video that accompanies the original article, visit: http://www.kcet.org/explore-ca/web-stories/childrenofslam/
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