The Story of the (first) SlamBook
"SlamBook" was the first publication of its kind; the first to come out of the Nuyorican, and possibly the earliest formal documentation of Poetry Slammers from one city or venue. It had a direct influence on the making of "Verbs on Asphalt" since it made me see how quickly things change in Poetry Slam; how quickly new Slammers can forget what happened before they hit the stage. The year that the "SlamBook" covers (2000) became a pivotal point Slam history and no less as we entered the 21st Century. To me, it marked the end of an era that was dizzy with expectation for the form; the period in which Poetry Slam as well as Performance Poetry came into a knowledge of itself.

The box of photos that started it all...
One Friday night sometime in the dead of late winter of 1999, I was standing at the back of the Nuyorican bar near Lois Griffith, getting ready to watch the Slam. A young dark- haired man approached me with what looked like a box of photographs in his hands and told me his name was Michael Meyer. "They told me you were the person to see with this stuff...I've been taking a lot of photos of the Slam"...and as he opened the box at the bar and started to show them to me, I was pretty amazed. It turns out he was getting his MFA in Photography at NYU and lucky for me, had become interested in Poetry Slam along the way.  So I had to think fast since I didn't want this guy to get buried in the crowd along with these beautiful pictures of our scene!

The magazine idea came to me immediately and I told him that possibly we could make a Poetry Slam magazine out of these photos. I really don't know exactly what made me say that. I certainly wasn't thinking about how I would get the writers, or the money, but it seemed like a good idea, and one that I could manage on my own since I had a lot of experience with print design. My studio was doing allright at that time, and I knew I could use some of that money to get the printing done. I also knew I could recruit a few good souls to do the writing.

Enter Syreeta McFadden and Keith Roach
Syreeta McFadden was a writer on the scene who also was taking photos; she had already worked on creating a publication in college that was quite beautiful and didn't hesitate when I asked her if she would also submit photos and help with the editing. "What'll we call it?" I thought out loud...and Syreeta just said, "how about 'SlamBook'?" and we were on the road to a magazine.

I got a whole bunch of people involved, asked Keith Roach to be an editor,  and before I knew it, poets like Bryonn Bain, Celena Glenn, Nathan P and Felice Belle gave me poetry for our pages. Looking back now, I see it as a little piece of poetic history, showing the people and players who were on the scene at exactly that space and time. It even had some of my own snapshots in it; I took that photo of the Rev. Pedro Pietri that sits on the back cover. Using Pedro's photo there was an idea that Keith had when we were trying to figure out what to put there. Now that Pedro's gone from us, this photo has a lot of meaning for me and sometimes I think it was a bit psychic of Keith to suggest it in the first place. But he was always interested in keeping the poetic flame burning on at the Nuyorican.

I was wearing a million hats- becoming publisher, art director, photo editor, deadlines manager and advertising director all at once. While that wasn't very practical, it was the best we could do at the time so we plugged on.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti Makes My Day
I like to think that one of my greatest accomplishments in getting folks to buy ad space was when I approached City Lights Books and Lawrence Ferlinghetti in San Francisco to place an ad in "SlamBook", which I very ceremoniously put on the inside front cover, at the top of the page.

I had read the praise that Ferlinghetti gave the Nuyorican in an interview earlier that year. But I was thrilled at what I saw as my chance to make a connection between literary generations. While I can't quote him exactly in the interview, when he was asked what folks should pay attention to, in terms of new poetic directions, Ferlinghetti answered simply by saying he thought it was coming from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

"May your passion and creativity burn eternally!" Ferlinghetti said in his ad in the "SlamBook" and it made me feel that the poetic torch had symbolically been passed to the sharp -tongued voice masters of a new generation. Since the 1950s, City Lights Books played an enormous role in recognizing the "next great" voices of America. Ferlinghetti published so many new writers that it would be difficult to pick the ones we know the best.

Grand Slam Finale 2000
We worked for months but finally it seemed like the magazine  would be ready for an auspicious publication for our Grand Slam Finale in 2000. We put Kirk on the cover as the reigning Champion and used it to function as a kind of program for Finale as well. The only suitable photo we had of Kirk at that time was taken by Syreeta, and we had to blow it up madly to get up close to his face. The printer kept calling me to say it looked "funny...sort of pixelated" and while we did everything we could at that point in printing technology and photo retouching, it ended up having a strange, illustrated look to it. Syreeta and I laugh as both of us have been asked "how we did that" - as though the effect was anticipated.

The night of the Grand Slam Finale, we hawked the magazine to people waiting on line to get into the show and sold it for $3.00, which I thought should cover the cost of the printing, but really never did. Later, we sold them online until we ran out and kept remaining copies to archive and to donate to the many libraries that asked for one. The dream I had, of course, was to publish these four times a year, as seasonal publications, but as many zine publishers out there know already, this takes mucho time, people and an ongoing source of revenue to make this dream a reality. Everyone in the magazine was either a poet or doing some other creative and/or financially lucrative work that would take them away from such an ongoing commitment, even grant writing. I was pretty distracted with the day-to-day of my studio, so while I imagined that I could get this thing going, in reality, without either significant funds or a deeply committed group of people, more "SlamBooks" became a distant idea for some future time. The second issue of "SlamBook" was begun but sadly never completed. I've written countless letters to email friends who have requested copies once we ran out, almost always sounding personally apologetic that I couldn't manage to make more. And if you managed to buy one of these when we had them, consider it a collector's item since we only printed 1500 copies! As Keith Roach once said to me "Who would've thunk it?... who would've known that the stuff they were documenting could become so relevant?"

My heartfelt thanks to all the poets, SlamMasters, photographers and patrons of our little "SlamBook" who inspired me to do it.  While making more "Slambooks" is always possible, it's a huge commitment as well...but if anyone is up to the task and can pull together some serious skills and funds, email here and put "SlamBook" in the subject line. You just never know...

And PS: A big cyberkiss to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and publisher, elder to our Slam generation and personal hero of mine.

-CU

 

Download a PDF of "Slambook"
24 pages: 8.5" x 11"
12 pages: 11" x 17"

  Above: Front and Back cover of "SlamBook". Below a couple of spreads from the inside.