An experience worth sharing
I clap for you because you made me feel it too.
Those feelings you speak of, love and lust, heartache and loneliness, I’ve been there. And you convey those feelings so eloquently, your words and sentences creating a rhythm punctuated by changes in your voice and the motions of your hands. All performed with courage that I admire because I lack it myself.
When you leave the stage, I want to congratulate you on a job well done and for making yourself vulnerable to me and the other 30 strangers in the bar tonight; something I couldn’t do. I want to tell you about that one time when my ex-boyfriend made me feel that way too and tell you how brilliant it was that you chose that metaphor.
The truly talented storytellers and poets who forge those connections with their audiences are separated from the rest at the Green Mill’s infamous Sunday night Uptown Poetry Slam, an interactive experience unlike any other.
The slam’s founder and host Marc Smith has been captivating audiences with his own poems for years and encourages hissing and booing, along with finger snapping and feet stomping, clapping, cheering and yelling out the performer’s next rhyming word if you know it.
Smith introduced the rules of the evening before the open mic portion of the event, prefacing it by telling the audience that there’s no poetry reading in the world where all the poems are good. It’s the music — in this case a piano, saxophone, bass and drums — that makes bad poetry tolerable.
The audience on Father’s Day wasn’t as harsh as audiences at the Green Mill are known to be despite Smith’s encouragement.
After the first hour of open mic, Emily Rose, a born and bred Chicago poet who has performed at the Green Mill many times before, took the stage and blew me away. She’s not only a talented writer, but also a commanding presence on stage. Following Rose was the competition the event is most famous for. Poets sign up to read or recite their work that is then scored by three audience judges.
The bad and mediocre performers are a blur, but a few faces stand out in my mind, not necessarily because I remember their words or sentences, but I remember how they made me feel. Throughout the three-hour slam, I laughed, teared up; I got angry and felt saddened as I absorbed their stories and experiences. Through their short performances, I felt connected to them because even if you can’t relate, the truly talented performers help you understand the place they’re coming from.
And then you look around and there’s a bar full of people who are clapping or laughing too. At the end of good piece of poetry, you look at the stranger sitting next to you, raise your eyebrows and mouth, “Wow,” because no other words are necessary.
Unlike reading a great book or a story that you might discuss with another reader later on, you’re sharing the experience of these performers with many others, and even though we’re all different people from all different places, we’re all humans who share the same emotions that these talented performers evoke from the stage every Sunday night.
And even though I’ve only been there once, I imagine that what you can count on every Sunday night is to walk into the Green Mill at 7 p.m. and leave at 10 p.m. or whenever it closes, knowing that for the three hours of the slam you are a part of a something great, something worth sharing.