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Chicago Def Poets

By Margaret Lyons in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 30, 2004 3:22PM

2004_08_30.dpj.gifChicago poets had a big night last night on Def Poetry; J. Ivy, Marlon Esguerra, and Marvin Tate were all phenomenal. J. Ivy, who collaborated with Kanye West on College Dropout, was particularly stirring in his aggressive poem addressed to his absent father. Chicagoist is pretty diehard about DPJ, and Ivy's performance was tremendous¬ówe think this season has been a little all over the place, and while we certainly admire the poets' wide range of expressions and techniques, we still like some of the poetry slam basics. Ivy's poem was exactly what we love about really well crafted performances and poetry; the poem itself was eloquent but straight-forward, and the performance was a total rager if ever there were. His eyes were closed for pretty much the whole thing, and he was hoarse by the time he finished, so if you like your abandonment issues with a heaping side of artistic fury, we highly recommend this performance. It might not be that cool to ask for a standing ovation in the middle of your poem, but J. Ivy managed to pull it off.

Marlon Esguerra, program director at Young Chicago Authors and performer with the now defunct I Was Born with Two Tongues, also performed a poem about his dad. Esguerra's work was totally different, so a big high five to whoever coordinates the line-up: these two poems worked incredibly well back-to-back. Esguerra's poem was far subtler, his performance more nuanced, and the overall effect was evocative of a totally different kind of anger and frustration. The poem centers on Esguerra's father doing crossword puzzles at the breakfast table in an attempt to polish his English skills, and Esguerra used delicate wordplay that demonstrated an obvious but restrained torment. We were totally blown away by his poised and fluid performance, by the seething anguish of a father's humiliation, by the confusion and determination of a dedicated son.

More Chicago poetry goodness after the jump...

These two poems represent some of what we admire most about Def Poetry and its huge range of performances. We love the screamy, fresh-hurt poems, the explosive blur of words, the panting race to the end of a phrase. We love the opposite, too, the plodding and particular, the slow, sweet, sad poems, the ones where you catch every single word.

Marvin Tate's autobiographic poem and performance were also fabulous, again representing a different style and cadence. "My Life: 1959 to the Present" is a self-described "fucked up poem," but that's hardly the point. Tate's delivery, his mixed tempo, the open and full sound of his voice all made the confessional poem more striking than it is on paper (or screen).

If you missed last night's episode, you can catch it again tonight at 8:30 on HBO2. Ani DiFranco is on this episode, too, but she sucked. Def Poetry: Season One comes out on DVD tomorrow.