A wild and mysterious spell is cast upon any venturing soul who steps upon the dusty Rocky Mountain peaks, who breathes in the cool pine-scent air of the continental glaciers, who shields their eyes from the bright elevated sun of a world this much closer to god and to nature.
As with any magic, there are consequences, inspiration, and empowerment. During Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, Colorado, there is also poetic freedom in the form of the Frozen Dead Poet Slam.
“Poetry is a thing that everyone can do,” said Marcus If, 49, Headmaster for Beyond Academia Free Skool in Nederland and producer of the event, “It’s just a matter of waking people up to the fact that they can write poetry too. They can read poetry. They can share poetry with their friends. That it’s a viable alternative to television. And you can actually share something intellectual instead of sole entertaining.”
On Saturday, March 13th, an old wooden wire-spool is rolled down from LoveShovelRanch and placed on 1st Street, in the middle of the moving festival crowd, where poets long dead are personified, in full costume, in a slam competition. There are 3 rounds, each round the number of poets is diminished, and the best-represented dead poet remaining wins a bottle of local whiskey.
“I don’t want to live in a world, even the most stuck-up people don’t want to live in a world, in which there isn’t that freakiness.” – Jonathan Montgomery
Last year, the drunkard poet Charles Bukowski, played by Jonathan Montgomery, 35, English professor at Front Range Community College, was champion. “Even if they don’t listen to what you’re saying, they still see that you’re doing something,” said Montgomery who will be hosting this weekend’s event as the Roman poet Catullus. “I think people dig that. At least somebody is out there doing something crazy. I don’t want to live in a world, even the most stuck-up people don’t want to live in a world, in which there isn’t that freakiness.”
And anybody can be in the crowd. “I’m in the sciences,” said Irene Leary, 24, astronomy teacher, who visited the festival last year. “Poetry is not something I ever come into contact with. We do have fridge poetry on my fridge – and mine is always terrible in comparison to my roommates – but it was my turn to make fridge poetry. After listening to all that poetry that day, I went home and tried to make fridge poetry – which was still terrible. But it was very exciting to be around something that I’m never around. Because my whole life is science and math, poetry doesn’t come up.”
Performing poetry at a festival is a chance to create connections. “Having the right opportunity to read Yeats or Edna Vincent Millay to a crowd is just wonderful,” said Marcus, “because it might catch them, and they may stop and listen and be like, ‘Hey, poetry is kinda cool,’ and then they’ll start checking out poetry. And then we can live in a world that also thinks with their right brain.”
“To be around people who are really excited about what they’re doing is really inspiring,” – Irene Leary
“To be around people who are really excited about what they’re doing is really inspiring,” said Leary. “And for me that’s in any field, but I’ve been especially struck by poetry because it seems like something so impossible to me. Like, how are people’s minds that expansive or that creative? It’s really beautiful.”
For the reciting poet, performing another author has its benefits. “Having that insight into another poet,” said Marcus, “going a little deeper than just reading the poems, but actually figuring out how to perform them, could give you insights into your own work. If you were going to be Mayakovsky, who has a very distinct reading style, and you actually went to the effort to listen to Mayakovsky and try to get an idea – there’s pretty much nobody who sounds like Mayakovsky anymore – that could be a real stretch for someone to do that, and that stretch may enliven their own work.”
Embodying a dead poet brings the performer into a new perspective. “One poet would stand up and bend with the crowd and do these sweeping arm movements to really draw people into what he was saying,” said Leary. “While another poet sat down, I think he even had a flask, he would read his poetry and take a swig from his flask. All the poets did something different to bring their poem to life.”
“The Poet is right out there speaking their own words,” said Montgomery. “They embody their own art, and they can come across as the freak archetype, that rebel who doesn’t play by the rules.”
For Marcus, that is his intent in organizing the Frozen Slam. “We’re creating an energy vortex,” said Marcus. “What happens in a Temporary Autonomous Zone is the sheer mass of people doing what they want to do overpowers the everyday morals of society, including laws… However, you are still responsible for everything that you do.”
And Montgomery agrees. “That’s another type of poet,” said Montgomery, “kind of Marcus’ spirit: where it’s not just about your words, it’s also about the spirit, shaking people out of their habits, showing them something new.”
“The competition is a format. It’s not really about winning. It’s about getting together and having a reading in the middle of the street.” – Marcus If
The Frozen Slam takes place on Sunday, March 13th, at 2pm in the middle of 1st Street in Nederland. On Saturday, March 12th, LoveShovelRanch Poetry Troupe will host a poetry open-mic at the same location, encouraging the crowd to join in and stand upon the wire-spool to read poetry (their own or from an anthology).
“Poetry has that special place in that it is self-revelatory,” said Marcus. “The competition is a format. It’s not really about winning. It’s about getting together and having a reading in the middle of the street.”
Thomas Ivory Jr lives in the Temporary Autonomous Zone of Love Shovel Ranch in Nederland. He’s a regular contributor to Boulder Poetry Tribe and only one of us with any actual training, receiving a degree in Journalism from CU-Boulder some years ago.