By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
The clink of glasses. The murmur of the crowd. The smell of newsprint and cigarettes. The pregnant pauses. The flecks of spittle arcing through the smoky air toward a waiting microphone. The creak of stretching similes. The rumble of mixed metaphors. The thud of thematic anvils. The screams of tortured syntax.
The one-sentence paragraphs.
Yes, it can only be the Fifth Annual South Florida Columnist Poetry Slam, brought to you by the good folks here at New Times.
You say you never heard of this prestigious event, which celebrates the stylings of the prolific pundits who constitute Florida's fourth-greatest contribution to American culture? (The others being, of course, personal injury lawyers, cosmetic surgeons, and dining establishments with "oot" and "uck" in their names.) Well, that's probably not surprising, given that the previous four events were little covered. OK, so they got no coverage whatsoever, even in New Times. That was at the insistence of the four-time repeat champion, Miami Herald sports columnist Dan Le Batard, who thought that having his name associated with this publication might not sit too well with the ESPN brass. But now that he's a fill-in on Pardon the Interruption and a regular on The Sports Reporters II, we figure he's nigh-untouchable up in Bristol, so we can give credit where credit is due: "The Ricky Williams Story: Parts I-LXIII" should be ranked right up there with Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene as one of the truly, profoundly long poems of all time. ("Lift your hands/Up, up, up./Toward the joy." The stuff of legend!)
Once Le Batard told us he was just too darn busy to participate this year, we moved the event out of its undisclosed location and into... well, a disclosed location: Dada, the Victorian home/restaurant/bar/music venue/hippest joint in downtown Delray Beach. And Le Batard's absence gave hope to a legion of aspiring slam-masters, all of whom believed that their talking-head stylings could now reign supreme.
After sifting through dozens of offerings from every yahoo from Stuart to South Beach whose mugshot runs with his or her byline, our panel of judges (OK, it was Dan Sweeney, so please direct all hate mail to him) winnowed out all the work that was, well, actually about something. We weren't looking for solid reporting or insightful analysis or relevance to the community. We were looking for the finest examples of good ol'-fashioned bloviating, the kind of writing that requires nothing more than the jerking of a knee, the stepping up upon a soapbox, the retrieval of a certain something lodged in one's nether orifices.
Applying these criteria, we narrowed the field to eight contestants and pitted them against one another, head-to-head, all-the-way live. Then we told them that, if they wanted the big prize, they had to step up to the mic and read their natterings aloud. And they did, on a recent Saturday night, in front of a big fireplace, armed only with words culled from their own published columns. So pull up an imaginary barstool, tuck into an imaginary plate of butternut squash ravioli, and watch the line between journalism and self-indulgent, middlebrow, semi-literary onanism disappear.
He is dressed in black. His professorial glasses and long hair give him a poetic edge, as if his garb had not done enough for beatnik cred. City Link's Jeff Rusnak(we like to call him "Lefty Jeffty") steps quietly to the mic, but his voice is anything but whispery.
"No epoch is spared the worst of our kind, and there is no ideal time to be born!" Rusnak thunders, the fire in his belly stoked by his bleeding heart. Then there is a hush. "I was born when children were trained to hide under their school desks in case of nuclear attack," he whispers. And with that introduction, the real magic starts.
Massive increases in military spending... tax cuts for the rich. Bush drives alone in his Lone Star presidency. The pigs have the best chance of getting constitutional relief come November. Bush drives alone in his Lone Star presidency. Out of the blood and fire and anger of... kamikaze attacks on the United States came the unmistakable and dreadful fact that we are now a nation at war: Us vs. Them, whomever and wherever they may be. In a country where ³us vs. them² is the prevailing Zeitgeist, she didn't want to be categorized as one of ³them.² Bush drives alone in his Lone Star presidency. ³You should be supporting Bush instead of writing what you write,² she insisted. ³You're Taliban.² We now live in a world where we sniff out bombers because we've seen what they can do, and we know we can't possibly capture or kill them all. Bush drives alone in his Lone Star presidency.
Jeff steps away from the mic then and... is that a tear in his eye? Perhaps it is.
"Wow," whispers one of the judges, "He actually makes it uncool to despise Dubya. Neat trick."
He looks a little out of place in the hipster setting, but at least the Sun-Sentinel's Ralph de la Cruz has the goatee thing going for him as he makes his way through the semicircle of comfy couches to center stage, muttering something about "561" and "17-digit dialing" as he frowns at his cell phone, stabbing at it with his index finger. He then quickly folds it up, clears his throat, and begins.