Since so many of you asked, here’s the text of my speech introducing Marc Kelly Smith, winner of the Distinguished Service Award from Lawyers for the Creative Arts:
It is my honor to present LCA’s Distinguished Service Award to Marc Kelly Smith. (so what?) So what? So? He’s just the guru of the Chicago poetry scene, the guy who founded the international slam poetry movement, which has been called one of the most imporant social literary arts movements of our time. Marc’s a Chicagoan through and through. He was born and grew up on the southest side and attended James H. Bowen High school. He was a construction guy for ten years, and hated it. He began writing poetry when he was 19 and sent out thousands of bad poems. He says he started writing good poetry when he discovered the stage. When construction worker Marc came on the poetry scene, the poets who controlled the places you read your poetry were, he says, pompous and pretentious people, and like any good Chicagoan, when someone stands in your way, you’re going to do it yourself. Marc hosted the first poetry slam at the Get Me High Lounge in Bucktown in 1986, and it soon migrated to Green Mill in uptown. This Sunday night event is the longest-running weekly poetry show in the counrty, and one of the longest running shows in Chicago history. Each show has three parts: an open mic, a featured poet such as Lucia Blinn, who is in our audience today or a professional touring act, and the poetry slam, and if you go—which I highly recommend—you could be selected from the audience as a judge. The poetry slam is fun, it’s nuts, it’s everything, but primarily Marc says, it is meant to be serious, bringing people together and connecting them, so that they get to know each other and know their hearts. It’s a place where people can start out, which is absolutely necessary for a thriving art form. Marc himself has performed around the world, including The Smithsonian Institute, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the Asheville Poetry Fesival, First Night Annapolois, The Innovator’s Festival in DC, Galway’s Cruit Festival, Denmark’s Roskilde Festival, Ausburg’s ABC Brecht Festival and the Queensland Poetry Fest in Australia. He has been featured on CNN, 60 Minutes, Whadda Ya Know, Oprah, Wild Chicago, WGN Chicago’s Very Own, and Chicago Slices and is frequently listed in various publications as one of the top movers and shakers in Chicago literature. He is the author of Crowdpleaser, which celebrates Green Mill and its audiences and of Bible of Slam: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Slam Poetry. He collaborated with Mark Eleveld to create Sourcebooks’ Spoken Word Revolution and Spoken World Revolution Redux. Marc’s poetry has been featured in Hammer’s Magazine, Chicago Magazine, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Poetry Slam, Aloud! Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, and the PBS series and publication, The United States of Poetry. He has produced thousands of poetry slams and performed at thousands of clubs, concerts and events. He keynoted LCA’s day-long Pen to Press self-publishing seminar in 2009, and he validated the efforts of each and every author in the room, filling us with inspiration and his infectious, can-do spirit. When he finished, the audience was in tears. Really something. On the homepage of his website, Marc offers this advice to all of us, whether we are writers or lawyers: His poem says, in part: If ya need to tell the world \ ya got more to ya than the world has as of yet allowed you to be, Be it Tell it Squeeze it out of each instantaneous moment Another verse says: Grab at the moon and hold the stars hot inside your head Cause Now is all that ever was and all there ever will be So Kiss it Kick it Scream it now. For enriching the lives of so many, for nourishing the creative spark, and for being the leader of an international movement that puts people together, please help me thank Slam Papi, Marc Kelly Smith.