Art wins

The East German judge.

The East German judge.

Rooting for art Competition is a natural theatrical device. This is what I try and drill into people. It’s a game. It’s not about really seriously who’s the best—although the best do come to the top—it’s a theatrical device. There’s something about competition; people focus their attention. Basically, [it’s] a big game. The audience usually knows that, sometimes the poets don’t realize it.Marc “Slam Papi” Smith, founder of the poetry slam

I used to slam. During the last couple years of the ’90s, I took stuff I’d written—poems, song lyrics—and rearranged things, cobbling bits together to fit into roughly three minutes of content I could enthusiastically shout at an audience.

What made the slams fun for me was the audience keeping score.

The quote above by Marc Smith (who will be featured at the Chico Poetry Slam Thursday, March 31, at Café Culture) was one of many great nuggets that were cut from the interview I did for this week’s issue (see “On the road with Slam Papi,” page 26). And as I split my free time the last week between obsessing over the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament and preparing for the Chico News & Review’s upcoming Chico Area Music Awards season, I thought a lot about competition’s role in breeding compelling stories. (I also thought about stealing his quote to help diffuse some of the cranky-pants CAMMIES naysayers. I know that we will announce winners, but the competition is just the hook, the “natural theatrical device,” to bring an audience to the show to create a memorable party.)

Most of the stories that have captured my attention in my life have been related to sports. And since I love basketball more than most things in this world (and still fantasize about being able to dunk a ball just once), the best ones have been the basketball plots. And the best of those have come from the distilled madness of the NCAA tourney.

My first time scribbling predictions into a tourney bracket was when I was a sophomore in high school, but I’d been following the tournament since junior high, the year N.C. State upset Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuawon’s Houston team—aka Phi Slama Jama—in the ’83 title game.

I began earnestly following the 1985 season by purchasing a Dick Vitale preseason guide, and gobbling up all of Dicky V’s insight into who would be the season’s PTPs (prime-time players) and Diaper Dandies (promising freshmen). I immediately latched onto defending champs Georgetown. As much as I wanted my story to end with the Hoyas having imposed the fearsome Patrick Ewing and their full-court-pressing badassness on all opponents on the way to another title, the prototype Cinderella story played out instead, and underdog Villanova squeaked by the Hoyas in the final, making for much more dramatic theater than I’d scripted. But I still went into the back yard and set fire to my bracket.

And, the winner is And, one more way in which the CN&R has turned art into a competition: Tonight! March 24, at 7 p.m., at Lyon Books we are celebrating the Fiction 59 short-fiction contest with a live reading by the winners, runners-up and honorable mentions. It’s free, there will be cookies and coffee and tasty bite-sized super-short stories. Show up early and get a seat up front so you can cheer each of the 59 words as they are released from the competitors’ mouths.


• Disco wins: The Shalom Free Clinic is the beneficiary at this second annual fundraising Fashion Show & Disco at Lost on Main, Friday, March 25, 7-9:30 p.m. Local designers and the Shalom Thrift Store will be showing off locally made fashions and repurposed outfits to an original disco soundtrack created by Chico musician and dance-music connesueur Kirt Lind. And after the show: Disco dancing!