Business vs. Pleasure – WoWPS Post #1

3 May

Will Evans, one of Columbus' many amazing organizers, with Copperhead Red.

Alright, humans. I’ve decided to take the month of May off Facebook in an attempt to improve my quality of life. I’m making exceptions for all stuff photo-related, and tagging folks on blogs – but I’m not responding to any comments, tags or posts on FB at this time. In other news: after years of courting, I asked myself to be my girlfriend – and I said yes. We are very much in love.

When last we talked story, I’d just finished an intensive mini-tour of New England and was on my way to Columbus for the Women of the World Poetry Slam. I was a little burned-out and ambivalent going in. My experiences with individual competition had been disappointing – and given the level of exposure I already had within the family, I wasn’t sure my investment (registration, travel, hotel, living expenses) would be well-spent. But a family reunion’s a family reunion, right? Leave it to me to let my heart come before business – at least in theory…

Family milling about before prelims.

***

What Makes a Great National Poetry Event

Obviously the concerns of money, relationship with the city, and all the professional stuff matter, but as a participating poet/volunteer who doesn’t really have to worry about the behind-the-scenes stuff, I have my own checklist as to what makes an event successful. The Columbus organizers did a stellar job on all these fronts.

Reasonable walking radius. Most poets don’t arrive at these events with their own transportation, so being able to walk from one venue to the next with ease is a real treat. The Columbus venues were almost all located within a few blocks of the hotel.

Good relationship with the hotel. This makes a huge difference. Nasty hotel staff have seriously fucked up some poetry moments for me. I don’t know how much the organizers can control this, except to make sure the hotel has some sense of who they’re dealing with, and to get us a 24-hour room in which to wile out. I really liked the hotel staff in Columbus. The doorman was a darling, and the cleaning staff very sweet and courteous.

Free food. Most of us are broke and don’t take good care of ourselves, so a free meal is a big deal. Especially a delicious one. Columbus offered free soul food before finals, which I hear was excellent indeed.

Appropriate venues. Cafes with sass, bars or clubs prepared to devote the evening to bouts, and accessible blackbox theaters are all fine examples. You want spots where ordinary folks will be anyway, or be near, without the poets having to compete with TVs or surly patrons for attention. The venues should also be sized appropriately, so a crowd of fifty doesn’t feel like a crowd of five. In both my preliminary venues and the finals venue, I felt the organizers had done an excellent job picking the proper spaces.

Good example of a nice, packed venue.

Good staffing. Impartial, professional volunteers make a big difference, too. Hosts make an obvious difference in the pacing and quality of a show, but all the background folks – official and otherwise – keep the event as a whole feeling organic. Columbus felt seamless.

Two of our handsome volunteers.

Asses in seats. There’s nothing more disheartening than having a room full of hot poets ready to spit – but no non-poet audience to watch or judge. This has been an issue at every national event I’ve attended – but Columbus did a good job. Bouts generally started on time, and I wasn’t witness to any truly desperate scrambling for judges.

***

With all that said, this was still the least fun I’ve ever had at a national event. The poetry was phenomenal, of course – what I got to hear of it. These months later, the two poems I heard for the first time in prelims that have really stayed with me would have to be Chauncey Beaty’s fruit flies poem (um, guffaw), and Rachel McKibbens’ last love poem (chills). When I’m competing, I don’t get to listen as closely or attentively as I’d like, so I’m afraid I didn’t get to hear or properly retain a lot of amazing poetry. That’s part of why I didn’t have that much fun. I was serious. I stayed serious through prelims, even after the bouts. I wasn’t around to play with my friends very much – but hey. I made it to finals stage. That was the goal all along.

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