It's a truism among reporters that journalism is the first draft of history. But it's not always the most vivid one. In fact, as all reporters know, often the best stories stay in your notebook.
I went to the first poetry slam of the season at the Artists' Quarter and saw two seriously talented poets -- Sierra DeMulder and Khary Jackson -- who had just gotten back from winning nationals with the 2009 St. Paul team. I'd seen a clip of Khary Jackson performing his "Jimi Christ" poem, which I still think is one of his best pieces. The clip starts with a song intro by Jasper Lepack, who describes Jackson as a "hip-hop mystic/clever cynic/with voice and rhythm," the pithiest description I've heard of him:
Then Sierra DeMulder got up and performed the poem "Apocalypse" and followed it up with the even more stunning "Static," a piece about the Columbine Massacre from the point of view of the shooters:
And my poetry circuits were blown out. Later I wrote this first draft of my own poetic history: "Sierra DeMulder standing short before the mic with a Tiny-Fey-does-Sarah-Palin lisp. Words explode out of her like hammers tender and powerful, like land mines, like poetic destruction, the body parts in the wake of her apocalyptic vision are tenderness, are myth-making, are monsters contained, she is grappling with her deepest fears, harnessing tornadoes, wrestling them down to earth with nasal punctuation of her verse and when she steps off the stage there is a cone of stunned emotion and the room erupts. These are not expected poems. Not easy poems. Precise from beginning to end, she hits the room like a smart bomb, like a bunker buster drilling down, taking sharp right angles/honing in on the soul."
And later still, I interviewed Khary and Sierra for the Pioneer Press. The final story published in the paper had only a hint of the poetry that inspired it in this brief exchange:
Q: How have you influenced each other as teammates?
Sierra: I won't go into theatrics — everyone knows his stage presence is unbeatable. Khary has an amazing way to crescendo his poems and drop it to the most soft and intimate voice, and we're still with him 100 percent. Not everyone can hold an audience by speaking softly. That is something I'm totally trying to acquire.
Khary: Sierra makes me feel less alone in terms of being a dark poet. To go there and do it well.
Sierra: And to not exploit things.
Khary: I really love her literary approach to slam. That is a reinforcer for me to feel comfortable that even though this particular poem might be poet-y or literary, it won't go over people's heads. Like, when she was first telling us this idea about a poem from the point of view of Jeffrey Dahmer's mother.
Sierra: You all laughed at me!
Khary: She made it work.
Both of them will be slamming all year at the Artists' Quarter and Kieran's Pub. And, this coming August, the 2010 nationals are coming to St. Paul -- bringing 400 of the country's top slam poets along with it.