I attended my first poetry slam, guys. That’s been on my bucket list since I read about it in some teen novel while I was in grade school. It was held at Stardust Video and Coffee in Winter Park, one of the best café locations in the world, complete with cement floors and quasi-vegetarian health food. And delicious loose-leaf tea.
The poetry slam was everything I ever imagined. It was an experience that popped straight out of my imagination and into real life. The emcee had both a beard and plaid shirt (hipster announcer: check and check!) and the rounds were decided by a rock-paper-scissors match between readers.
The poetry was, on occasion, dark and moody, born of the minds of students who sat in the back of the room in high school. One poet was shaking so badly she couldn’t hold her tablet still to read the words, and another contestant had to hold it for her. She finished to loud applause and cheers, but didn’t advance.
This was far from being ‘professional’ in any sense. The prize was $20, which the winner kindly used to buy the other contestants “a cheap beer” from the bar.
Poems about pennies on train tracks, wolves and desserts, the Brooklyn Bridge and Florida heat crackled over a wheezing microphone as the contestants read on stage. A red curtain provided a great backdrop with brightly-lit Edison lightbulbs piercing the dim, buzzing room. It was, simply, the place to be. No question.
The evening’s featured poet (who I hadn’t heard of and still don’t recall her name) read a good twenty minutes worth of artistic, slanting words. Her tone was moody and monotone, her hair a mess of curls. She was rocking a pair of grey skinny jeans and hefty black combat boots. I didn’t understand a single poem she read, and she later let slip on stage, “I really have no idea what my poems are about.”
The evening’s winner was a lanky man with great stage presence, whose poems featured great lines like, “In life, you have to break a sweat sometimes. Anyone who doesn’t is F***ing tourist.” (That was a paraphrase, and a reference to his poem on Florida, which was the single most entertaining poem I have ever heard.)
Afterwards, everyone sat and mingled, reveling in the vibe of the company of fellow word-lovers. My previously-mentioned hipster/vintage school friend Alex and I drank French sodas and loose-leaf chamomile tea and listened to the hum of happy poets, chatting about school and English and the nonsensical words spilled on stage.
(Before the poetry slam, we’d had a charming dinner and stopped for two-dollar ice cream at a roadside stand the size of a lemonade stand, painted to look like a house. It was charming and unusual and the perfect fit to the night.)
I can now cross ‘Poetry Slam’ off my bucket list. I’ve always wanted to go, and this is an experience that hit the nail on the head. It was exactly what I expected, and surprisingly wonderful. Looking at the readers, you’d never guess the thoughts that run through their heads and spill onto their pages.
Although really, I doubt even they understand the words that they find after a good brainstorm.
Anyway, if you’re curious about this weird and charming little café of quirk, here’s a slightly older video that holds all of the strange hipster charm Stardust Video and Coffee has to offer. See for yourself!