It's hard to say how much of a pull Fremont has," Daemond Arrindell said.
After 4 1/2 years of bouncing from location to location, attendance levels have rebounded for the Seattle Poetry Slam, now settled for the last nine months at Tost, 513 N. 36th St., on Tuesday nights.
Having produced the Slam for four years, Arrindell has officially been Seattle Slam master for two. "The title sounds a lot cooler than the job actually is," he admitted.
Slam masters organize the Slam in their particular city. More than 100 venues currently hold slams across the United States.
A GOOD REPUTATION
Begun in the mid-1980s in Chicago, Slams feature poets reading original works to both an audience and randomly selected judges.
With applause (and boos), audience members can sway judges, whom give poets scores from 1 to 10 in the style of the Olympics. The poet who survives all elimination rounds receives a cash prize.
The Poetry Slam came to Seattle in 1992, in the back room of the one-time Emerald Diner on Queen Anne. The list of previous slam venues is a list of Seattle hot spots: OK Hotel, Sit-And-Spin, Dutch Ned's.
With one month's notice, its last location, the Mirabeau Room, closed. That meant a desperate hunt for "a venue that was going to be small enough for no empty seats but big enough on popular nights," Arrindell said.
Tost co-owner Chris Lang welcomed the Seattle Poetry Slam for business reasons. "The reputation was that they had a good crowd," Lang explained, and "Tuesday night is a really tough night." Arrindell isn't surprised their reputation precedes them: "Every venue has been very happy with us," he said.
At Tost, the slam overwhelms the club, leaving no room for casual drinkers, and Lang said that's "not a problem."
"It's different to take over a space, rather than be in the back room," Arrindell observed. "Being the only show definitely gives the impression that poetry can hold its own."
Tost bartender Dallas Taylor also speaks positively about Arrindell and the Slam, although Taylor has noticed only half the poets tip, down from the norm of 85 percent.
When asked if poets drink, Taylor admitted, "Not nearly as much as you'd think they would."
With a settled, stable home at Tost, the Slam can get serious again. "If we go on hiatus" due to a closed venue, Arrindell explained, "it throws off the whole season."
And it's a season about to reach its climax.
On Tuesday, July 31, the Seattle Slam team will be featured performers at Tost, showing off their stuff before the national competition.
"Every team is very different," Arrindell said about the competition, but "we [Seattle] have a very strong reputation. Seattle always brings quality material and quality performance."
This is no empty brag from our Slam master.
While the Seattle team has never won at Nationals, in 2001 and 2002 the team made it into the finals, and every year since they've placed among the top 20 in the semifinals.
Independently, local poets Anis Mojgani and Buddy Wakefield have both won titles in individual competitions. Wakefield, a member of this year's Seattle team, was named Individual World Poetry Slam Champ twice.
In 2004 Wakefield defended his title at the Federation of Slams in Europe. There, poets submit poems ahead of time in the language written. During performances, their poem, translated in different languages, scrolls over them in captions.
NO PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS ALLOWED
No Slam will take place at Tost on Aug. 7 as our Slam master and the team attends Nationals. When the Seattle Poetry Slam returns, the competition starts again to determine next year's team. Audience members help, through their feedback on performances and cover charges they pay to finance the team's trip to Nationals.
Although the raucous competition is primary, the Seattle Poetry Slam starts at 8 p.m. with sign-ups for the slam and open mic.
Open mic starts at 8:30 p.m. Fremont time, which means around 9 p.m., and includes performance poetry, singers and even, occasionally, a comedian or vocal percussionist.
Practiced and professional performers take the stage midway through the evening as featured poets. A short intermission follows, during which judges are sought.
Arrindell prefers to pick volunteers attending their first Slam, those unlikely to carry preconceived notions about what a "slam poet" should be, as he insisted there is no such thing as a slam poet or a slam poem.
A SENSE OF ACCEPTANCE
This event provides poets a sense of community and acceptance for an otherwise solitary obsession. When approached, Arrindell and other regulars have given feedback to new writers, and Slammers, and have done mentoring.
The show also reveals no topic is taboo in poetry. Warning: This is not family-friendly, nor a place for the easily offended or the intolerant. It is mind-expanding, culturally rich and alternative entertainment.
"We attract some literary folks, hip-hop, age ranges," Arrindell observed. The Slam "has a little bit of something for everyone," even those in Fremont.
Kirby Lindsay welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.