Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010; WE22
There's something a little scary about a poetry slam. That's according to Natalie Illum, a performance poet with an academic background who says she was initially terrified of getting up in front of an audience and being judged on her verse. Now she loves the thrill of the battle.
Illum is the executive director of Capturing Fire, the first national poetry slam for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) poets, which debuts this week in Washington, along with a queer poetry summit (meaning workshops and panel discussions on GLBT-themed poetry). If it all comes together as planned, she says, the three-day event will be something of a cross between the queer poetry Olympics, an academic conference and professional wrestling, only with words.
It's a strange vibe, she admits: halfway between collegiality and killer instinct. At one of her earlier slams, Illum remembers looking at friends she was about to go up against and thinking, "I love you guys as poets, but I want to slaughter you."
What to expect: In a word, energy. That's true both on and off stage. Illum says feedback from a rowdy crowd is as important as the caliber of the performers. "We need the audience as much as we need the poets." Other than that, who really knows? That's the thing about being first. "What would happen if we had our own queer slam?" Illum asks rhetorically. "It'll be interesting to see who rises to the top. And what they talk about."
If you go: Capturing Fire runs Sunday to Tuesday at the Fridge, 516 Eighth St. SE, rear alley. An opening ceremony Sunday at 7 p.m. will feature the band Good Asian Drivers, along with readings by Andrea Gibson, Chris August and what Illum calls other "queer slam icons." The initial bouts are Monday at 7 and 9 p.m. On Tuesday at 8 p.m., the field will be winnowed further, until one champion is left. Tickets to individual events, available at the door, are $15; $10 for students; $35 for an all-inclusive pass. A full schedule is available on the Capturing Fire event page on Facebook.
-- Michael O'Sullivan