In the 1990s it seemed like slam poetry was everywhere. From coffeehouses to rowdy beer gardens, it spread like a giant ink stain from its font in New York and Chicago.
But in spite of its stereotypical Gen-X-goateed-slacker reputation, slam poetry appealed to a diverse group of young writers and performers. With its rhythmic staccato and hip-hop inspired linguistic wordplay, slam poetry became an outlet for many disenfranchised people who felt alienated or bored by the formal structure of traditional poetry readings.
In 1998, a little independent film called Slam brought this new breed of poets to a wider audience. Saul Williams, an acclaimed slam poet in his own right (he won the 1996 Grand Slam Championship at New York's Nuyorican Poet's Caf), co-wrote and starred in the film, which won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
In the film, Williams played a young urban man who learns to express himself through poetry after being imprisoned for a drug-related misunderstanding. The movie's fictional story was uplifting, but the lasting appeal of the film was the depth and passion of Williams' poetry.
In the last five years, Williams has enjoyed a career based on poetry, music, art and collaboration. In addition to many chap books (small, self-published collections of poems), Williams has published three collections of written poetry: She, The Seventh Octave, and the forthcoming said the shotgun to the head (due out in stores on Sept. 16).
He also has two spoken-word recordings: Penny for a Thought/Purple Pigeons and Not In My Name, which features, among others, the world famous DJ Spooky. Williams' musical undertakings involve many recordings, and though several have a hip-hop feel, others go in a more experimental rock 'n' roll direction.
Jack Quinn's has hosted many nights of trivia quizzes and live music, but this may be the first night for this kind of event. While an Irish-style pub may seem to be an odd venue for a hip-hop-inspired spoken-word event, this is no coincidence. Local promoter Marc Peralta has been booking rock shows at Jack Quinn's for several months now, but wanted to get back to his literary roots (he has a bachelor's degree in English).
"I wanted to branch out from punk and indie rock," Peralta said, "but I wanted to bring something positive, something I really believe in. Saul Williams is an important person; he has some important ideas to share. And the way he plays with words is really creative. He can speak for two hours and it's completely riveting."
In turn, Williams requested a "positive" local hip-hop act to open the show, so local socially conscious hip-hopsters Idiolectic Conception will warm up the crowd.
Williams' Colorado Springs appearance is part of a short tour to promote his new book, which is published by MTV/Pocketbooks. In a further effort to explode stereotypes, he will be touring with indie-rock darlings The Mars Volta in October.
-- Bettina Swigger
Saul Williams with Idiolectic Conception
Sept. 13 at 8 p.m.
Jack Quinn's , 21 S. Tejon St.
$10 ; Call 385-0766