Robert Pinsky says that poems are musical scores, to be performed by the instrument of the body. The lungs, ribcage, larynx, the tricky tongue and shaping mouth (some of you heard Kevin Young mention embouchure), the resonators of skull and nasal passages, upheld and amplified by the diaphragm—all these concert together (with pitch, posture, and pulse) to release a poem’s music—
And I haven’t mentioned the face, its members express and admirable as a portable Mummenschanz.
Well. Our guests tonight would seem to agree.
What do you need to know about them? Little to nothing, I expect.
Should you know that Marc Kelly Smith invented the poetry slam at a Chicago bar in 1984, and that he’s been doing it nonstop ever since—a three hour set at the Green Mill every Sunday night, the longest running show in Chicago and poetry slam history?
Does it matter to you that, though there are manifold films/CDs/books about slam, Marc has kept on resisting the co-opters and franchisers with a sweet old-fashioned belief that poetry SLAMS BEST on the fringes, in real bars, in real neighborhoods, in gatherings of the original and inexpert?
Does it make a difference to you that, over the last two days, our man engaged a couple thousand high school students, embodying how a shy person can trust and venture LANGUAGE—and that he got all of them performing, and dozens of them up on their feet, mics into their hands, their voices fat in surround sound?
Should you be forewarned he doesn’t think of himself as a slam poet?
—or that, even so, he’s complained publicly about effete poems feebling forth from page or stage, so that this week our chevalier, Miles Coon, may have greeted him with, “Why am I bringing you to this festival?” (But, of course, he did—a tribute to both.)
—or, finally, that after the Duhamel–Lux–Shapiro reading on Tuesday, this man, who seems never to need a printed page to bear The News, exclaimed, with his slightly Chicago vowels, “That was fantastic. So good, that if I’da heard dem when I was young I wouldn’ta had to invent slam poetry!”
I don’t know if that stuff matters to you now as he approaches the stage. And truth is, you’d get it all for yourself; so this intro is just me glossing the goods beforehand.
Here then, more chastely: Following on thousands of performances in nightclubs, concert halls, libraries, universities in venues worldwide, he brings his malleable, effectual, appealing self to our precincts tonight.
Here is all you need to know.
Welcome, Slampapi—Marc Kelly Smith.