Letter from Paris

Dear DorkyMum,

Paris has a way of swallowing time.  It seems like just hours ago that I arrived here on Tuesday morning, and now it is Saturday and the final round of competition in the World Cup of Slam is on for tonight.

And what a final it will be!  Roberta Estrela D’Alva from Brazil, 33 years old, six feet tall, a beautiful confident woman who shines with kindness; David Goudreault from Quebec, always smiling, sure of himself and his poetry; Chris Tse from Canada, 21, self-aware and cool in an engaging, friendly way; and Younes Mernissi from Belgium, possibly the strongest poet among us, who puts together words in the way great artists paint pictures — you see what he wants you to see.  Who will win?  Who will hold their nerve and capture the fire for three rounds? It will be very, very close.  But the quiet consensus among the rest of us is that Roberta will be difficult to beat.  She is an Amazon warrior with a heart of sunshine.

But truth is, all 16 poets in this competition deserve to be here.  64 poems have now been performed in front of eager and enthusiastic audiences, and not one has been bad.  The youngest person in the competition, 20-year old Mathias Bungaard, is the only poet to receive a perfect score of ten twice in the same round.  The oldest, 63-year old David Morgan from England, an unreconstructed anarchist from the Old School, spins stories out of the ether and leaves people breathless.  The talent is so rich, and the people are so nice — we have become a community.

Daan Doesborgh from Holland is a young hippie with shoulder length hair and an amazing sense of humor.  He is here with his father — also a hippie — who drove to the competition with his girlfriend in an old German Army Mercedes Benz Ambulance which they have converted into a Rolling Love Bus. Gabrielle Tuloup from Paris writes poems about the touch of lovers, but has no time for a boyfriend. Arthur Matveev from Russia smiles at everyone and carries a shoulder bag that produces endless cans of lager.  We all sat together last evening until well past midnight, drinking beer and wine and laughing. Everyone is exchanging e-mail addresses, promising to stay in touch.  There is something wonderful happening here, something we are all aware of but can’t quite name.

And tonight I expect the Slammers to bring the stars down from the endless night sky, for them to steal the lights from the Eiffel Tower. Because this is the Coupe du Monde de Slam, and this is the real deal.

Tell DorkySon that his father will be home tomorrow. Tell him I have stories to share about beautiful people who know magic words. Tell him that angels and wizards really do exist.  I know, because I have seen them.

Je t’aime,

DorkyDad

Lots of Merlot and a man from Glasgow…

Dear DorkyMum,

Well, they weren’t kidding when they called it the Coupe du Monde — The World Cup of Slam Poetry.  Now in it’s fifth year, there are competitors here from 16 countries, including Gabon, Brazil, Portugal, Russia and the Seychelles.  We are indeed a Rainbow Nation of Slammers.

The whole event is being run by a wiry man with a styled afro named Pilote.  He rides around on the narrow, hilly streets of the the 20th arrondissement on a banged-up scooter with a wrap-around roll cage, dashing from venue to venue, always smiling.  This is a big cultural event for this part of Paris — there are banners everywhere and a local elected woman politician showed up to help officially get things kicked off in an opening ceremony last night at the Place Frehel.  We drank Merlot and cheered.

Then the competition started, and the entire experience kicked into a much, much higher gear.  It is clear that Slam is a global force –some of the people here have been performing pretty much week in and week out for over ten years.  And our hosts have the presentation piece of this absolutely nailed.  The venue last night was a civic auditorium with plush seats for the 200 or so who came along.  There was a massive stage, several different colored spotlights and  giant screen in the back of the stage where each performer’s poem was instantly translated into both French and English.  Scoring is done by five judges sitting in random parts of the theatre — your basic one to ten, based on quality of poem, effectiveness of the performance and the audience reaction.  The most frightening bit is that the score for each round — every poet does three pieces — is immediately put up on the screen.  Nowhere to hide on this night.

France and Gabon made it through the first round, and I found myself wishing I had paid more attention to those French classes in school.

But my knock-out round is tonight, and even the the other poets are calling it The Round of Death.  Brazil — she is beautiful, clever, an experienced competitor; Canada, a great guy named Chris Tse who is a journalist in Ghana and perhaps the most seasoned Slammer in the competition; the United States, a woman from Los Angeles who it seems has been to every festival in the world; and Scotland.  That’s me.

I am nervous, but not nearly as nervous as I will be at 7 p.m. tonight.  But then one of those small things happened that makes you think, this might just be okay.  Just as the Festival was starting up, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there was Jim Ewing from Scotland, straight across from Glasgow’s  Last Monday at the Rio Cafe to cheer me along.

“I am your one-man Tartan Army,” he said with a very large smile for such a wee man. So, whatever else happens tonight, I do not walk alone.

More to come.  Much love from a very small hotel room on rue de L’Hermitage.

DorkyDad

Bon voyage, DorkyDad!

Dear DorkyMum,

Well, the day has almost arrived.  Tomorrow morning I board an Air France flight to Paris, and tomorrow evening I compete in the first knock-out round of the World Cup of Slam Poetry. The first heat will be a tough one — the United States, Canada, Brazil and Scotland.  If this were football, I think I know how it would go.  Only two of us will go through to the semi-finals on Thursday.  And this isn’t football.

How did I get here?  The truth is, by accident.  You will recall how engaged I was in the Free Fringe Spoken Word activities last August. It was fantastic, and just as an aside, it is people like Peter Buckley Hill and Richard Tyrone Jones who keep the true spirit of the Fringe alive and burning bright.  I decided to go listen to the last Slam of the season — Utter Has Talent — and cheer on my good friend Bram Gieben. The stakes were high — Slam Champion of the Free Fringe, a paid gig in London and a pound of sausage meat. At the last minute one of the scheduled competitors didn’t show up.  I was asked to fill in and, well, I won.  That led to an invitation to compete in the Scottish National Slam Championships in Glasgow this March as part of the Aye Write Festival.  My greatest hope that night was to make it out of the first round.  Something strange happened again that evening, though, and I was somehow declared the winner.

So now I am off to Paris.  More specifically, the 20th arrondissement, home to the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery where Chopin, Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Moliere and Jim Morrison all presumably rest in peace. Wikipedia describes the neighborhood as “an old working-class area now in rapid transformation.”  Just what it is transforming to is less clear, though they do add, “this gritty area is probably going to be on of your main night-crawling venues.”

Someone named Gwen is to meet me at the airport, but I have no idea where I will be staying.  Apparently friends have been asked to stick random poets in their garrets. But I am off for a grand adventure, the sort of thing I couldn’t possibly have imagined just last summer.  The World Cup of Slam, 17 nations battling for the crown, and for the first time in the six-year history of the event, Scotland is represented.

Let’s get it on.

All my love, DorkyDad