"If you don't have a sense of humor, get off the stage!" So declares performance poet Taylor Mali in the movie SlamNation, opening this Thursday at the Alliance Cinema. The charismatic Mali is one of many memorable stars of the film, which generally chronicles the fierce competition between the colorful characters who participated in the 1996 National Poetry Slam (a sort of boxing match for performance poets) held in Portland, Oregon, and specifically highlights the adventures of a four-person team from New York City.
Not always the most light-hearted of creatures, performance poets are an odd mix: part serious actor, blustery orator, clever ironist, skilled writer, sometimes with a dash of zany comedian thrown in. Leave it to these cases of split personality to make distinctions between themselves and their more "serious" counterparts who consider themselves solely "poets."
Beau Sia, a member of the New York City team from the film, has no qualms about calling himself a performance poet. "My stuff isn't that good on the page yet," reveals Sia, whose often hilarious, fast-paced work contains myriad references to popular culture and was apparently good enough to merit publishing in the book A Night Without Armor II: The Revenge, a spoof of popular folksinger Jewel's recently released collection of poetry. He will read from his book Thursday on Lincoln Road at an event called Film and the Spoken Word.
In addition to Sia local poets Sandra Castillo and Adrian Castro will recite their work. Castro, whose book Cantos to Blood and Honey explores a "serious" topic, the eventual culture clash stemming from the migratory experience, thinks what's on the page is as important as what's on the stage. "Performance poet is a term that gets thrown around a lot," he explains. "I don't know who made it up. I guess it's to distinguish between certain kinds of poetry and academic poetry. I'm a poet, and that's what I consider myself."
Castro may be a poet who is known around Miami for his dynamically dramatic readings, but he has no ambitions to compete in any slams. Sia, on the other hand, returned to the national competition in 1997 and 1998, and has acted professionally in the feature film Slam. He's even met his inspiration, Jewel, when he was hanging out backstage at Saturday Night Live. "She was nice," Sia says dryly about the woman, whose book received a slam of a different sort from him. "She's known as this lovable lady, so she couldn't be mean to me. She was very uncomfortable but nice."
Film and the Spoken Word takes place at 8:00 p.m. Thursday, January 21, outside Books & Books, 933 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach. Admission is free. SlamNation shows immediately afterward at the Alliance Cinema, 927 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach. Admission for the film is $6. Call 305-534-7171.