Arena Poetry

SLAM! winnows out the weak

Apr 14, 2004 at 4:00 am
Remember the scene in Gladiator where the gladiator single-handedly defeats the tigers? Or those nature shows that follow the lions as they attack the antelope herd? The St. Louis Poetry SLAM! (every second and fourth Wednesday at 9 p.m. at Red Sea, 6513 Delmar Boulevard) duplicates that shiver of fear that runs down your spine when the lion tamer puts his head inside the lion's mouth at the circus. How are slam poets like giant cats, you ask? The similarities will astound you: Both can be deadly when they open their mouths (poets will bite if provoked), their eyes get that creepy flourescent green color in the dark, and both can create a frenzy with just one roar/word. For $5 you can witness performance poets in their true environment: In three minutes or less they will create a poem-jungle full of politics, satire, comedy, love and passion, all in the hopes of claiming the audience's devotion and a juicy cash prize. Plus they choose the judges right from the audience (no experience required)! For more information call the St. Louis Poetry SLAM! at 314-776-7370. -- Amy Helms

Sommer Lovin'

FRI 4/16

There's a bit of rivalry between fiction writers and poets. While these feelings don't normally lead to a Sharks-versus-Jets-style street brawl (though we bet Norman Mailer and Seamus Heaney could totally throw down), there have been many arguments about the relative merits of prose and verse. Are poems more artful? Are stories more accessible? Do poets or novelists get more lovin'? Won't someone end this centuries-old debate?

Into the breach comes Fontbonne professor and Whiting Award-winning poet Jason Sommer. Sommer, who will be reading from and signing copies of his newest collection, The Man Who Sleeps in My Office, at 7 p.m. in the Lewis Room of the Fontbonne library (6800 Wydown Boulevard), combines masterful storytelling with remarkable lyricism. Sommer's beautiful, often startling poems concern everything from the Second World War to a mynah bird that repeats the words of a man's dying wife. Such literature-savvy mags as The New Republic and Ploughshares have featured Sommer's work in their pages. So poets, fiction writers: Lay down those pearl-handled pistols and rejoice on the fertile common ground that Sommer has created. After all, you're lovers, not fighters. -- Brooke Foster

Shanghai Surprise
Qiu Xiaolong's mysterious poetry

MON 4/19

As a young student, Shanghai-born writer Qiu Xiaolong developed a love of Western literature and poetry, a trait shared by Inspector Chen Cao, the protagonist of Qiu's Anthony Award-winning crime novel, Death of a Red Heroine. Through Chen Cao, a poet/policeman caught in the tensions between politics and police work, Qiu gives voice to his love and concern for the country and culture he left behind. Fans of crime and detective fiction are given a fresh voice in Chen and an Eastern take on a Western genre in these full-bodied, lyrical and conflicted books about violence, beauty and human struggle. Chen Cao's experience resonates in both cultures; although it has been censored and edited, Red Heroine has received great response in China -- so much so that it's being adapted for a television series.

Qiu has lived in St. Louis since 1988, when he came to Washington University as a visiting scholar. After the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989, he decided to stay in the United States and earned a doctorate in comparative literature from Wash. U., where he now teaches literature and writing. Last year Qiu published the Treasury of Chinese Love Poems as well as his first collection of original verse, Lines Around China. (A new collection, Poems from the Tang Dynasty, is in the works, as is an ambitious novel spanning 50 years of Chinese history.)

Qiu Xiaolong reads from his work (mostly his poetry, although Inspector Chen Cao may make a brief appearance) at 8 p.m. in room 204 of Anheuser-Busch Hall (on the campus of Washington University, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards) as part of the Center for Humanities Smart Set Reading Series. Call 314-935-5576 for more info. -- Jedidiah Ayres

Bush Whackin'

THUR 4/15

There's something distinctly American about enjoying the carnage that ensues when former bedfellows turn on one another, especially in an election year. Former Republican Party strategist Kevin Phillips unloads both barrels on four generations of the Bush family in American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, a scathing look at what he claims is a familial pattern of influence-buying and deception. Phillips reads at Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue, 314-367-6731) at 7 p.m., and it will probably be SRO. -- Paul Friswold

CA Gtr 3

TUES 4/20

All this globalization mumbo-jumbo is finally starting to pay dividends, at least in music. The California Guitar Trio approaches its craft with open minds. CGT's shows are as likely to include Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" as they are Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." The CGT run the gamut at 7 p.m. at Off Broadway (3509 Lemp Avenue, 314-773-3363). Tickets are $12 to $15, and their show is followed by the Pernice Brothers/Long Winters show (which you pay extra for), recommended by us on See/Be Seen. -- Paul Friswold