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Poetry Royal-Rumble, DRAFT 2015

I’m writing poetry. An event that’s all too rare these days. But I am finally, safely at home writing with the cat straddling the keyboard of the laptop, and what I’m most impressed with is a tagline I’ve added to the recent promotional material for this year’s DRAFT: One night, one Mic, one chance to make the line-up!


I’m in love with the sounds of that simple advertisement. The quick, flitty syllables and that hard repetition of “Mic” and “make” nestled in between the almost transitional sound of the soft “ch” in chance. This is as good as it gets. (...and nearly iambic, if it matters.) Besides this, I’m stuck between the usual sturm und drang of beginning a poem from scratch, writing with an audience in mind, and the thought of performing it some point down the line. But, needless to say, it has to be better than just good. No spot is guaranteed on the tour this year. All poets -- decades old veterans and last year’s returning crew -- all have to re-audition. No poet is safe.

One night.

First, some history. It’s a well known secret the WAT!? tour has always been a curated affair. As with all literary movements, happenings, any artistic endeavor ever, it began with a few friends who urged their friends and friends of friends (like a pyramid scheme) to write and perform and bring more people in. And it’s surely to their credit. No conspiracy there. But no one planned (or had enough friends) for this thing to keep going ten years!


On top of that they never meant to become an institution, to be the respected, senior statesmen of Houston’s poetry scene. We used to joke about having pop-up readings underneath bridges and in downtown alleyways. Being more in demand came with more pressure, and that old joke started to sound more and more satisfying. So, to accomplish something daring, something new, but staying loyal to the earliest mission of the tour we’ve decided just the thing to cleanse the palate lest anyone think we’re growing stale. This year’s DRAFT is a royal-rumble.


All fourteen spots on the lineup are up for grabs. Everyone is a free agent. New poets vs. established, style vs. style, in-the-loop vs. outside, stage meets the page! Like a fine sorbet, this year’s lineup will celebrate what’s come before as well as smooth the way for an exciting new future of the tour.


One mic.

That is to say, one person with no accompaniment. No props. No live animal-acts. One original poem. Of course, we all know, from out that one poem can come any number of magical things.

I always have to remind others that the Word Around Town does not favor any style or type of poet over another. We’re pretty hip and lit-curious that way. I hear all the time, I won’t go to the draft because I don’t “do slam style poetry.” Whatever that means! I am planning a tattoo on my back that will say “there’s no such thing as a slam style,” even one of the foremost slam masters agrees with me. (jump to 2:20). We have assembled a handful of awesome poets from different schools of writing that will serve as impartial judges this year. Yet another way this year is going to be different.


My mission, as I write right now, is to think of something in that two to three minute range, a kind of sweet spot between saying something not too lengthy but with a few fully imagined ideas getting across without boring too many people at once. I want something that is more or less easily digestible, a bit broad, nothing that would require a close-reading in a wingtipped chair.


And what is exactly wrong with poet voice, I ask you!? I affirm all rappers are beginning to sound alike, just as most slam poets talk out of the side of their mouths as they do another epistolary poem. We’re all moving from one trans-atlantic accent to the event horizon of auto-tune. I say, be bold and bring whatever style or voice or shamanic intoning you want.


One chance.


Last year we introduced summer workshops at Inprint, this year we’re adding some new and exciting opportunities. This year we’ll be taking the Word around our great state for the Word Around Texas summer tour. We’ve got a handful of classic poetry venues throughout the state where our veteran poets can mix and rub elbows with the local literati. We’re exciting about some new technology we’re going to be bringing out, film, publishing, and more offers for our poets and a chance to be a part of history.


Two years ago we had twenty-five poets, last year thirty. Who knows how many this year. We’re returning to some classic venues as well as new fan favorites. That means we have to get everyone in and out with no time to spare. So no introductions, no context, no explanation of what you wrote but by what you’ve written. In other words, put everything in the page and leave it all onstage.


I want to see some spectacle, some flame throwing. I’ve seen some poets play the audience like maestros with call-and-response, brilliant musical refrains, repetition and pure flat-out passion. Its hard to write a poem that does that quietly. But then, some of my favorite returning poets in the past were the quiet ones - the ones you leaned into to hear every night, who whispered sweet romance to the microphone like it was pillowtalk. Or funny, or interesting, or controversial. Plain weird. It takes too many forms to count.


As I wrote this, taking some time off from my draft piece, I thought it’d be embarrassing not to make the lineup this year after having made the team three (wow, count ‘em) years ago. But the same way the original organizers didn’t imagine it this far out, I never thought I would make the team in the first place. I certainly didn’t see myself doing it year in and year out. This is just to say, I remember all these amazing writers and creators through the years, how I’m trying to emulate them now, what they’ve done and do regularly on stage, and I think, this year, if I didn’t get selected, I would still love to sit back and enjoy all the marvelous things a new batch of poets will bring.


One night: May 15th

One Mic: Cafe Brasil.

One Chance: Register here today!


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