It's still alive.
We showed up an hour early and still only managed to get one of the booths in the back. It's a rare night when this place doesn't have a crowd and tonight, especially would be packed. I looked ahead. I knew.
You see, it's 21 tonight. Not the lounge -- that turned 100 this year, depending on how you count. Tonight, the cake belongs to an art form. The poetry slam started in 1986 by the same man who was on the stage tonight. I was three. Now 24, I sit in awe of some of the things I hear in these seats.
This was where it all started. Not technically at the Green Mill lounge, but here in this unbroken line of poets that migrated here from the Get Me High Lounge when it closed its doors for good. The ringmaster is the same, the venue different, but even now there are people who travel from everywhere to perform here at this particular slam.
By the time he, Marc Smith (an ornery, but gentle hearted man), climbed on stage and started the traditional poem that marks the start of the slam, it was standing room only and the perfectly preserved 1920s glory of the bar was covered in the faintest hint of smoke. Just the way it should be.
I only really studied dead people in my classes. 17 years of school and an English degree, and I still have yet to study a single poet with a beating heart. Even the most modern class I took, Literature and AIDS, looked at people 10 years dead. I have heard it said that the poet is dead, an archaism that will fade like the silent movie. I always shake my head at this, but I can count on one hand how many of my current corporate co-workers have read a single verse since they left their school days behind.
I start teaching next year. Not real teaching, but the non-paid, training wheels kind. I will get in front of a class of students who will wonder what the fuck poetry is and why they should care. I will get in front of them and will probably have to go through ten dead white guys before I get to anyone that shares anything with them. I sit here tonight watching the poets work and I wish I could take my kids here, first day of class, in this smokey lounge and watch the blood run through its veins still. I want them to see the cavalcade of people, of all shapes, colors, orientations, and sizes, go up on stage and read poems as varied as they are. I want them to see this as something still breathing.
It's still alive. And I don't think it will be stopping anytime soon.
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