Denver's had a lackluster National Poetry Month so far: Outside of a few isolated blips, it's been business as usual for the area's alive-and-kicking but seriously diffuse poetry community. That could all change when Gary Glazner, the Vibes (the rhythm section of the Jazz Passengers, featuring Bill Ware, Brad Jones and EJ Rodriguez) and a video crew roll into the Mercury Cafe on Thursday with Beatfest 2002. A seventeen-city slam-poetry event that kicked off earlier this month at New York City's Knitting Factory, the fest should top things off here in style. Competing local performance poets will quote the Beats in preliminary readings before the visitors start slamming; when the dust settles, the lucky winners will be featured for a year on the Beatfest Web site.
What's the attraction? Theatrical and totally "in the moment" (or maybe it just seems that way), performance poetry shakes up the whole infrastructure of the dowdy old poetry world. And it does so with great public relations. "Slam poetry gives people a voice," says Glazner, the New Mexico poet who's also a tireless defender of the mode and the physical gear that moves Beatfest across the country. "It's like the old sharing around the campfire, back when we were cave poets learning the language of the tribes." And Denver, Glazner notes, sports some of the healthiest homegrown slam chops in the nation.
He's been spreading the word, literally, since he met poetry-slam inventor Mark Smith in 1990. "That night, only one poet showed up," Glazner recalls. "He slammed against himself and lost." All kidding aside, Glazner thinks slamming is a growing interest: "Walt Whitman said that in order to have great poetry, you've got to have great audiences. Slams help build an audience." The audiences are coming, too. "So far, we've had some interesting scenes. In Pittsburgh, we had a woman who sang with her hand in her mouth. That was spooky. She won first place for hand singing; I think it's going to be a new movement."
The best excuse for participating, Glazner supposes, is simply to experience the sheer excitement it generates: "I love written poetry. But it's just so great to hear people actually cheering a poem."