a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Have you ever had one of those nights when you thought you were surely going to be broadsided by a bus on your way home because the night was just that perfect, just that complete, that you were certain you had somehow used up all the goodness you are allowed in one lifetime?  I hope you have.  Had one of those nights, I mean (NOT been broadsided by a bus).

Sunday night, my husband and I made our way through downtown Chicago to the Green Mill Jazz Club.  And on our way home, I was sure we would be broadsided by a bus. 

I gripped the steering wheel tightly and stayed alert the whole way home because I wanted the opportunity to hold on to the memory of what we’d experienced long enough for it to become part of me.  Part of us.

Having never been to a live poetry slam before, my husband and I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  Which turned out only to make it all the more thrilling to be there. 

The Green Mill Jazz Club is a Chicago original.  It is filled with hazy air and circular booths and little café tables and a carpeted stage and jazz music and the scent of time and words and fried food.

When we got there, it was already pretty crowded and we weren’t sure we’d be able to find a seat other than a crescent shaped booth all the way in back by the door.  But in true poetry house style, Marc Smith (the father of slam poetry himself), welcomed us into the throng of poets by gesturing at an empty table up front.  Empty probably because it was pressed against the stage, intimately close to the performing poets and musicians, but I was happy to find a table in the midst of the action. 

I was there to see Sarah Kay in particular, in her first ever Chicago appearance.  However, as soon as we sat down, I knew I was in for much more.  Seated at the table directly across from us was Taylor Mali, most famous probably for his poem “What Teachers Make.”  Leaning down, chatting with him, was Sarah Kay. 

This glimpse of what we were in for was enough to soothe my soul.  These are the moments I consider to be our first true moments of summer break. 

Marc Smith took the stage first, and did some kitschy audience response routine to introduce this Sunday’s edition of the weekly poetry slam at the Green Mill.  Then we were treated to some open mic accompanied by improvised support from the jazz band.  And by improvised, I really mean improvised.  The band was given vague direction by the poets, such as, “Give me something that sounds like a sea turtle diving.”  It’s a good thing poets and jazz musicians speak the same language.

After the open mic, Taylor Mali took the stage with poems like: “Miracle Workers” and “The The Impotence of Proofreading.”  Listening to him, I felt proud to be a teacher.  A feeling I don’t often experience outside the walls of my classroom these days.

Taylor Mali was followed by Sarah Kay, whose performance included the poems:
Point B,” “Montauk,” and “A Love Letter from Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire.”  I got goosebumps from the rhythm of her words.  There is magic in the way she uses language.

The final segment of the night was the actual poetry slam, which made me wonder why I had been so intimidated by the idea of poetry slams up to this point.  I am not a conventionally competitive person, so the unconventionally competitive nature of the slam suited me well.  A poetry slam is an atmosphere of audience interaction and a celebration of spoken word, honesty, and bravery more than it is a competition.  Surely this poetry slam energy needs to go straight from the Green Mill to my classroom next year!

My husband and I soaked up as much of the goodness of poetry as we could before we left Green Mill Sunday night, but even with the power of all of those words pumping through our veins, the first thing we said to each other when we got into the car to head home was, “When do you want to go back?”
Me with Sarah Kay

Me with Taylor Mali


  1. You got a picture with Taylor Mali. Wow! I just read his book, What Teachers Make (and reviewed it). It was an awesome read. Perfect when you need to recharge your batteries.

  2. YES!!! I am jealous on so many counts. First, I'm dying to go to the Green Mill! (Are you a Kurt Elling fan, by any chance?) Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth: Sarah Kay, Taylor Mali, Live Poetry, Date Night!! I'm glad you didn't get broadsided by a bus. :) (But I giggle thinking that it's exactly what would happen in a cartoon!)

  3. I'm so happy you got to experience this! You completely deserve some perfect experiences.

  4. Oh my goodness, Christy, what a marvelous time you had, & the pictures! Wow, what an experience for you & your husband. I know Taylor Mali & read some of the poems by Sarah Kay-wow. Someone I've read had slam poetry at the end of the year for their class. If I can figure out who, I'll let you know. Thanks for telling all about this.

  5. Reading your post was up-lifting. The thrill you had must have been hundred times more. Take it, take it to the classroom. The poetry slam energy.

  6. Way cool. I'm so jealous you were able to do this. Thanks for the pics...takes us there with you...at least a little! When you go back, you'll have to post again.

  7. WHOA! That sounds like an AMAZING night! I can't believe you actually got to see Taylor Mali perform in person -- and meet him! The improvisation of the musicians from the poets' directions sounds really cool! I could feel your excitement throughout the entire post, and your first paragraph was the perfect description of such a "perfect" evening!

  8. Christy, what a magical night you lived! I loved it and I'm so glad you shared. I want to keep the words of these poets echoing in my head. So cool!

  9. I love slam poetry and what an amazing time to spend with your husband. The thought of slam poetry and jazz all in one night is exhilarating. Thanks for posting some pics of the evening's talent!