Marc Kelly Smith
We caught up with Smith on Jan. 26 in Safety Harbor, where he presented a performance poetry workshop for the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center's Sideshow off Main Street. Smith made the stopover after appearing as a featured poet at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Smith, 66, is considered the founder of the poetry slam movement. In the mid 1980s, he began holding competitive readings that were judged by audience members at the Green Mill tavern in Chicago. Called the Uptown Poetry Slam, his project continues today.
What's on your nightstand?
Allyson Hunter, a retired art director and writer for Leo Burnett Advertising, gave me a book on Chicago. It's The Third Coast by Thomas Dyja. I actually have a big collection of books on Chicago.
Did this book teach you something about Chicago you didn't know?
I just started it. I'm hoping it's going to reinforce stuff that I've already read and forgot.
Who is your favorite writer on Chicago?
Well there's Mike Royko, the great Chicago columnist. He is tremendous. Royko is a guy that everybody read, from the cop on the street to the college professor. Everybody read his column all the time. Royko took on the "Daley Machine," but he was one of the early supporters of the civil rights movement too.
Did you ever get to meet him?
I never met him.
With all due respect, I heard that conversation, again, that pitted traditional poetry against performance slam poetry.
This argument that continues 30 years since slam started is absurd. It shows the ignorance of some in the traditional poetry world rather than their expertise. To perform a poem is a craft of itself. Any poem can be in the slam world if it is performed. It's a stupid argument. It's like talking to the Republicans about global warming, like there's no global warming. It's stupid, and it should end. My repertoire is made of two-thirds of classic works, Sandburg, Lawrence. I have a great amount of Sandburg memorized. He was a Chicago guy and a socialist.
Do you think Sandburg was a good performer?
I don't think so at all. His was a funny, affected style of poetry. What slam poetry is, is very natural, an authentic voice. Rather than saying, "I am the poet,'' we strive for a very authentic communication of language. While not losing the beauty, we honor the natural voice.
Contact Piper Castillo at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Florida_PBJC.