Wednesday, May 25, 2005
A new slam
Proprieters of the Easy Chair Bookstore
want to put poetry slams back on stage
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Proprietors of the Easy Chair Bookstore want to put performance poetry back on the stage in Blacksburg, and they hope that their latest creation — a poetry slam in a downtown bar during prime time — will breathe new life into a delicate form.
Slam poetry might be called the ronin of the academic poetry world, without master or home. At least that was sort of the punk-inspired idea circulating in the dank cellars that first housed the slam venues of Chicago in the late 1970s and early 1980s — the boxing-bout style of Jerome Salla and Elaine Equi in 1980 and later the Get Me High and Green Mill readings of the mid-late ’80s. The goal behind these performance-poetry venues was to inspire poetry for the people in reaction against poetry for poets and academics.
For Russell Chisholm, owner of the Easy Chair Bookstore, the idea for a poetry slam is part of a larger "do-it-yourself" attitude that he and his staff have tried to carry out in creating community events at the bookstore and, now, elsewhere, Chisholm said.
Still in its first year of operation, the shop has already hosted numerous author readings and poetry open mikes. Chisholm gets excited about performance poetry, he said, because it generates an enthusiasm and an immediate audience reaction that written poetry fails to accomplish.
Chisholm, who has hopes one day to host an author so crowd-compelling that he would need to hold the event at the Lyric Theatre, said he has many reasons for moving this particular event beyond the doors of the bookstore. Many are simply practical. Past poetry readings at the bookstore "haven’t appealed to a broad enough audience," Chisholm said, "so we wanted the diversity of the crowd" at the Underground Pub and, in general, in the larger community. "In some cases we’ve just outgrown the space at the bookstore," he added.
Another reason is Chisholm’s conviction to place these sorts of community art events at the forefront of the town’s attention.
"It’s time to move it out of the basement and into a larger venue," he said. "It can’t be relegated to Tuesday afternoons at the coffee shop; it’s time to move it to prime time."
Another major motivation is a belief that it’s good for downtown businesses to work together, Chisholm said. The upcoming slam will be held at the London Underground Pub on Main Street, just a few doors down from the bookstore.
John Bissey, general manager at the Underground Pub, seems to agree.
"It helps us and it helps them," he said. "All the downtown merchants are obviously in competition with each other, but if we can work together everybody wins."
One example of this, for Bissey, is the petitions of downtown businesses in reaction to the recently proposed meals tax. "It was the result of businesses coming together that got that overturned," he said.
Another example, he said, might be the simple act of two businesses sharing a product and a venue as is the case with the new "Pub Blend" — a coffee roast developed especially for the Underground Pub by Chisholm, who also owns the Easy Chair Coffee Shop in Blacksburg’s University Mall.
"We’re gonna start selling it as our house coffee, which is great," Bissey said. "It will be nice to be able to offer our customers a really good cup of coffee, and it’s perfect for this place — dark and a little smoky."
The ultimate goal for Chisholm is to provide community-fostering gathering places. The upcoming slam, as well as the various readings that the bookstore has hosted in the past, are in part an attempt to provide such an opportunity for community members.
Chisholm said he wants his businesses to involve themselves in "more than selling a commodity" and hopes that the upcoming slam will be only the first in a long-standing tradition.
The Pub Slam will be held at 8 p.m. Friday at the London Underground Pub on Main Street in Blacksburg. Arrive at 7:30 to sign up.