Suicide Kings bring a poetry lesson to Chico slammers
Geoff Trenchard is one member of the Bay Area’s the Suicide Kings, a poetry troupe that dropped in on Moxie’s to headline a recent edition of local slam vet Taz Yamaguchi’s Chico Slam series. In his poem, “Ode to my Bathroom,” Trenchard describes a kid in a class he’s teaching poetry to. The class is full of pop-culture-drenched kids in expensive clothes, except for the one. He wears “white sneakers and black socks pulled up to his knees” and collects “Magic the Gathering collectable trading cards.” One day the nerdy kid belts out an impassioned poem—"I was born in a factory/ and raised in a plastic bag/ Now I hang next to the magazines and plunger/ in the constant fear of ass!"—that wins the class over and gives the teacher hope that there is at least one individual voice in his class.
The poem’s conclusion: “Poetry exists to give the socially awkward a way to be finally applauded by their peers.”
Before Trenchard and the featured Suicide Kings trio capped the night with their hip-hop/punk-rock/ poetry-screaming monster of a sideshow, the Chico Youth Slam Team battled against the “Chico poets” in a Slam Off. Each side alternately sent poets to the stage to do their three minutes and get scored for their efforts by five randomly selected audience members (youth won out in the end, by 3.5 points).
Before I make any comment, I have to say that I used to be very involved in local and regional poetry slams. I stopped attending and performing because, frankly, I got really bored. Bored with myself, but bored mostly with the performers’ pandering to audiences and setting aside whatever unique voices they had in the name of higher scores. Almost nothing has changed.
I say almost because the poise and comfort level on stage, especially with the young poets, was impressive—they’ve obviously been putting in the time for rehearsals. But the poems for the most part were still built on generalities of hot-button topics (sexual assault, broken homes, racism), and the delivery—breathe in and (pause) yellasmanywordsasyoucaninthreeminutes—was predictable and tiring.
Of course, poems about broken homes and all that are what people should be writing, but why repeat what everyone else is already doing? Loudly yelling rape statistics or screaming the word “fuck” shows the audience nothing. Sure, everyone responds, but so what? People respond to commercials too.
With that, Chico poet Kyle Bowen (a slam vet and member of San Jose’s 2001 Nationals team), with his hiked-up trousers and thick red suspenders, did a hilarious piece poking fun at his I-am-not-a-leading-man looks to end the bout portion of the night, proudly proclaiming to all the women in the audience that he could be their “11 o’clock man,” only to be outdone in the end by an even uglier guy he called the “2 o’clock man.”
The night was all about the Suicide Kings, though. All three members, Trenchard, fire-breathing redhead Jamie Kennedy and Philippines native Rupert Estanislao, are heavily decorated vets of the slam scenes in Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose. Kennedy opened, announcing his presence as the “real Jamie Kennedy” (not the Malibu’s Most Wanted one) before launching into his violent, hilarious love poem to freaky chicks—"I trust well-balanced women like I trust Gandhi to have my back in a bar fight.”
From there, the three poets took turns hopping from the very serious (Estanislao’s memories of having to slit a dog’s throat with a dull knife just to eat, in particular) to the hilarious (Kennedy announcing, “I am the worst fuck ever!"). As stage-seasoned storytellers, each poet tightly constructed his routines with stacks of vivid imagery and details that showed the audience clear images of each individual experience.