Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marc Smith Keeps Slam Alive in Chicago

By Hal Conick

February 20, 2008

“Where the hell have you guys been? We’ve been here for the last 21 years you know!”

Marc Kelly Smith looks across the sea of people who have filled the Green Mill for his weekly Uptown Poetry Slam. There are more new faces than usual this week, but Smith doesn’t seem to miss a beat. Right from the start, he has the crowd laughing and yelling along with him, much like he has been doing for over 20 years.

“If you happen to like something, cheer loudly,” says Smith as the crowd lets out a roar. “You cheer like Elvis is here. You cheer like Elvis is really dead!”

Smith then continued to explain the rest of the usual crowd noises to the younger than usual crowd; if you don’t like something, he says to snap your fingers. If you really don’t like something, you stomp your feet. And for the ladies, there’s the “feminist hiss” as Smith called it. The experienced members of the audience demonstrated each action as Smith explained.

Amazingly, Smith kept the same level of high energy the entire night, whether he be performing one of his original poems or stage or moving through the crowd. Throughout the night, he perused the entire length of one of the world’s oldest jazz clubs only to make sure everyone was having a good time.

It’s no mistake this many people have come to see the show that Smith puts on every Sunday. The word of Smith’s Slam poetry gospel has spread since he first created it in 1985, and Slam has gone everywhere in pop culture from hip-hop to comedy to the movies.

Smith’s art has also spanned across the world, as it did Sunday; from Chicago to Ohio to Scotland. Smith called upon his Scottish friend Simon throughout the night, who divulged during his first poem that he recently started his own Slam poetry night in Scotland.

One by one, open mic performers came to the stage, each bringing a different breed of poem. Vijay Pendakur, Assistant Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs at DePaul University, has been writing his own Slam poetry for over 10 years.

“Marc started something beautiful that spread like wildfire across this country,” says Pendakur. “Slam is so popular because of what we have become as a country- there’s a lot of competition in both. That might make some people shy away, but it’s a fun competition.”

Fawzia Mirza, a local Chicago actor, has visited the Uptown Poetry Slam six times in the 10 years she has lived in the city, but she has yet to get up on stage.

“I haven’t yet, but I’d like to,” says Mirza. “As an actor, performance is what you do. In slam, there’s still a formula, but there’s a lot of room for whatever happens to come out. It’s the heart of expression.”

The expression Mirza speaks shines through in nearly every performer who jumps on the stage of the Green Mill Sunday night, but Smith doesn’t seem to get big headed about his creation. Marc Smith leads a final call and response with the crowd reminding them that he’s no big deal.

“Thank you for coming out, I’m Marc Smith…”, to which the crowd responds loudly with “So what!”

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