World AIDS Day Poetry Slam

Campus Unions Prepare Vote of No Confidence

Campus Unions Prepare Vote of No Confidence

Nathan Aldrich

You probably saw the great signs all around campus for the Poetry Slam held in honor of AIDS Awareness Day last Monday night, December 2, in the Lipke Auditorium. The UMass Boston Chapter of MassPIRG organized the free event featuring five award-winning and nationally touring poets battling it out in four rounds of jazz-accompanied slamming.

Not your ordinary poetry reading, the poetry slam was a high energy, high volume affair where the audience was expected to be very vocal in its support of the performance.

The Jeff Robinson Trio, straight from the weekly Sunday night Poetry Slam at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, warmed up the crowd with a slow repetitive drum solo that was soon joined by the stand-up bass and a man playing a huge saxophone, which he ran through a dozen or so effects processors for a result many folks that night took for a prerecorded drive-by electric can-opening. Anyway, they were pretty damn on top of their shit, and then they were pretty damn on top of the poets’ shit, I mean, ’cause those boys were tight with the night’s program of poetry slams.

MassPIRG’s Raegan Truax, acting as the event’s master of ceremonies, greeted the audience of over a hundred people and introduced the four-time winner of “It’s Show Time at the Apollo” and 1997 National Poetry Slam Champion, DaBoogeyman, who started the night off reading from his new book The Poet: Written and Experienced. Regie Gibson played a conga drum as DaBoogeyman did his big loud thing; the crowd was responsive, they liked it, and so did I.

But it was when the maniacally energetic Buddy Wakefield, three-time member of the Seattle Poetry Slam Team for the National Finals, 2002 Long Beach Grand and Rust Belt Regional Slam Champion, with over seventy First Place Poetry Slams, (and I now know why), got up and showed us his belly and told us to get over it and then hollered and spun around and threw his hands up and gave us the finger and said we were starring in some “major motion picture called confusion” (while I was laughing and having a fine time staring at him through my camera hoping he’d give us the finger again so I could get a picture of it and put it in this paper for you to see), that I realized beyond every inkling of a doubt, this was not your ordinary poetry reading.

Then the much-anticipated Patricia Smith took stage. Some may remember her for the stormy exit she made as a Boston Globe editorialist a few years ago. However, as the old adage goes, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger: Smith is well known and respected in the poetry slam world. Slam Nation calls her “perhaps the best individual slam poet in history.” She’s the recipient of Illinois’ prestigious Carl Sandburg Award for poetry, and cofounder of the Boston Slam.

Her first poem of the night was for her sixth graders back in Miami. As her poem revealed to us that her sixth graders were the under-classed, under-privileged urban youth of Miami her command of the medium and power as a messenger became strikingly apparent. Her second poem was a hilarious monologue told from the point of view of her childhood barber, who perpetually talked about everyone behind their back. Sometimes, Smith said, he’d forget you were there and start talking about you to whomever was in the chair at the time, and he was always talking about women, those that walked by the store window, other people’s wives, your wife. Her final poem, about making hot-water cornbread in the kitchen, while dancing with her father, as her mother steams in the next room because she’s doing all the work and the fact it’s to her father that the young Patricia gives her sweetest adoration, contained so many primary childhood dynamics that we were all pulled into that hot-water cornbread kitchen. Or something like that. Anyway, it was a damn good poem even if I don’t know shit about poetry; we loved it.

By the time Regie Gibson, the Curator of the Zeitgeist Gallery, 1998 National Individual Slam Champion and selected as one of the Chicago Tribune’s Artist of the Year for Excellence (1998) in poetry, stepped onto the stage our expectations were pretty high. Regie was awesome. However, I think I prefer to just use what Kurt Vonnegut said about Regie, “When you perform, you are supersonic and in the stratosphere where you can see the Earth really as a ball, moist, blue-green. You sing and chant for all of us. Nobody gets left out.”

The second woman on the evening’s bill, Monique Jarvis, floored us with her amazing singing voice. All of her poems were laden with her bursting into song (no dance, though), her angelic voice warming our souls. Jarvis has won the National Slam Poet 2000-2001, and is a featured poet all over the Northeast. She also co-hosted and founded the award-winning poetry venue, “The Artist’s JunXion.” This is her third month on the road “bumming” as she put it, which means she’s living solely off her earnings from doing poetry slams.

Perhaps the most appropriate for the evening was Raegan Truax’s poem she dedicated to her friend Christopher. The poem illustrated the grim and laborious task of medicating oneself with the forty-three daily pills necessary to buy a little more time before the AIDS virus finishes one off. She has the amazing ability to paint the sorrowful image of not just the torment of being consumed by AIDS oneself, but of the complete sadness of watching someone else be consumed by AIDS.

Amazingly enough, Raegan’s second poem entitled “The Right,” detailing the struggles people have made in order to gain the right to vote, not just in America, but all over the world, was just as powerful and inspired as her first. Her young age coupled with the depth of her insight and ability to craft such melodious odes definitely stood her apart from the rest as one of the most impressive poets of the evening.

You can visit all of these poets at their respective websites, and the Internet is full of information about their upcoming shows: Monique Jarvis,; DaBoogeyman ,; Buddy Wakefield,; Regie Gibson,; unfortunately Patricia Smith does not appear to have an official websites, but you’ll get a thousand hits if you do a query for her name.