By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Like any good, emotionally repressed person, I believe that people should not get any more specific in public about their problems than the words on the side of a Xanax bottle. Take two for...insomnia. Depression. Daddy didn't love me. Whatever's ailin' you. I was shocked, therefore, when I sat down for a nice, cold whiskey and Coke at Club Dada one Wednesday night and heard people opining onstage about the state of racism in America, domestic violence and the many moods of one's vulva. Much like the hokey-pokey, in slam poetry, that's what it's all about. (Clap, clap! Or maybe, the clap, the clap.)
It was "Slam Dada" night, and a man in the room was wearing a beret, I believe, on purpose. Like the wearing of berets, there are many inexplicable things about slam poetry. Like someone using the phrase "America, I want to butt-fuck you with an AK-47!" in front of children. But that's for later.
There are two rounds in poetry slam. First round, everyone takes a turn and has three minutes to recite his or her best verse. Five judges score them on a scale of one to 10, presumably because it's hard to quantify the scale that should be used, which ranges from "Who taught you to read?" to "Must Go Change World Now, Kthx, BRB." In the second round, the same thing happens, except the poets go in reverse order. Judges need not be poetry experts, merely interested bystanders. Or people with strong stomaches. Or deaf. Like stand-up comedy or barbacoa, when slam poetry is bad, it is bad. There's really nothing like hearing someone shout the words "auto-erotic affixiation."
Who was I to judge someone just because they didn't leave their angsty verses where they belonged, in dusty notebooks crammed alongside high school yearbooks? The word that appears most often in my column is "I." I am a navel-gazing expert. I have a doctorate in "My shit is more important than yours." So I put my listening ears on.
The Dada host called a guy named "Militant X Amerikkkan" up to the microphone. Short, round and bespectacled, there was little that was militant about Militant X, other than his Dead Prez T-shirt honoring the anti-establishment hip-hop duo. But his poetry? Downright sweet.
"Last night, I watched the sun rise on freshly fallen tears," he said, reciting verses about helping someone in a time of need. There were the requisite references to domestic violence and abuse, of course, but really it was about supporting a friend. Later, when I found the Dallas Poetry Slam on MySpace, Militant X responded. We met for coffee at the Nodding Dog in Oak Cliff. Well, I had coffee. Militant X had a militant glass of orange juice.
"I'm trying to speak for the voiceless, the dead and the past," Militant X told me, "trying to give them justice." His quest is in its 13th year now, and the Terrell native has advanced from hearing "mental word phrases" as a 6-year-old to coaching a Dallas poetry slam team in national competitions as a 37-year-old.
He told me of his prestigious accolades: getting kicked off XM radio and a University of Texas at Dallas broadcast. He has been made infamous, in fact, by a poem he wrote called "Booty Juice," which he performed after getting a coveted reading position at the erotic poetry portion of a national competition. "If you do anything like it," he tells me, "they ring a gong, turn the mike off and escort the poet offstage." This guy, with his orange juice, is supposed to be dangerous?
"I do not try to satisfy everyone," Militant X said, sipping his juice while wearing a crisp, striped polo shirt. He says he'll e-mail me "Booty Juice."
Every year, local poets rack up points at different slams to see who earns a spot on competitive teams. Militant X runs an open mike and a slam at the Soda Gallery in the Bishop Arts district with a guy who goes by the name "Rockbaby." He said I could come by and read a poem if I liked.
I was torn, believing that if you can't keep your emotions to yourself, you don't deserve to have them. And nobody's giving out the big points for poems about stable, middle-class childhoods. Lucky for me, a speeding ticket obtained the previous week gave me plenty of fodder for an angry rhyme.
See, I'd received the worst customer service of my life at a Volkswagen dealership, one named after a tony area of Dallas that rhymes with "shark titties," trying to get my oil changed. What was supposed to be an hour-and-15-minute in-and-out turned into a three-hour ordeal in which I spent a lot of time sitting in a chair reading intellectually stimulating back issues of Modern Luxury.
This put me leaving Shark Titties Volkswagen at around 3 p.m., which put me in the worst kind of mood to be in when one is driving through a school zone: the mood in which you're too angry to notice that you're in a school zone. My (highly deserved) fine could pay for a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Or a few hundred cans of Lone Star at the Double Wide, which is, for me, a more likely purchase.