Arts preview: Event puts poets through MeatGrinder

Jim Fischer

Two years ago, the coordinators of Columbus' Writers' Block Poetry Night planned a one-day alternative poetry slam for Ohio teams that weren't going to make the trek to the west coast for that year's National Poetry Slam.

Louise Robertson and Scott Woods tweaked the rules some - incorporating time limits and a faster pace, allowing costumes and props and hosting the preliminaries and finals on the same day - and dubbed it the MeatGrinder.

"That's why we chose the title for the event," Woods said. "We decided to cram it all in and see what kind of damage we could do."

"Last year we had a woman perform while getting her head shaved," Robertson said. "You know something's going to happen, and that's exactly what we want."

And word is getting around. As the third annual MeatGrinder nears, interest in the event has moved beyond the state's borders, with teams from neighboring states registering to participate.

"It's branching out, but I don't care where people come from [or] if they came from China. The only thing I care about is: Are people taking risks with the form?" Woods said.

Robertson said most of the participants are veteran slam performers, although it's not a requirement. She also said some teams sign up to compete together, while others are just individuals who form teams "pick up" style.

The daylong event opens in the morning with workshops and free-writing exercises, with the first bouts beginning at 3 p.m. Robertson said the pace of each round is purposefully accelerated, with each performer allowed three minutes to read original work. Official Poetry Slam events allow performers a 10-second grace period, but MeatGrinder eliminates it. Five judges score each performance, determining which teams advance to the finals, which will be held at 8 p.m. following a break for dinner.

Robertson noted the audience includes poets, students and fans of the poetry community.

"It's very much an extension of our regular Writers' Block events," she said. "But the finals would really make a great date night."

"The audience is full of energy," she added. "Everybody wants everybody to do well."

There is a $200 prize for the winner and $100 prize for second place. Robertson said the money helps defray the costs of travel and registration, but that the true prize is "bragging rights."

"Poetry slams are not new," Woods said. "But we wanted to bring some kinetic energy to poetry, where we're inviting anything to happen."

Kafe Kerouac

3 p.m. Bouts, 8 p.m.

Finals, Saturday, July 16

2250 N. High St.,

North Campus