In Minn., a Poetry Slam With a Twist

This was the number four Entertainment story on my Excite News headlines coming in after two headlines about Anna Nicole Smith and one about Gerald Levert. There is hope in the world today--


ST PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Slam poetry got a fresh twist when three Victorian-era re-enactors read from such poets as William Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson in a setting that was fitting for the event - a 19th-century stone mansion.

Actor Craig Johnson, wearing a gray frock coat typical of the period, said at the Saturday night event that there were two reasons for holding a slam - more typically the venue of rappers and hipsters - involving Victorian era poets.

"One is just that we really love the literature," he said. "The other is that it gives us a chance to do something we otherwise wouldn't get to do at the Hill House." Johnson manages the James J. Hill mansion for the Minnesota Historical Society.

Actress Laura Salveson, who has never been to a conventional slam, said she is a lover of all literary forms. She gave her performance in a floor-length silk gown and a corset.

"You learn to breathe a little bit differently," she said of the corset. "It's not something I'd choose to do on a daily basis."

Johnson, Salveson and Ann Brueggeman shook the dust off of poets from the 19th- and 20th-century, including Lewis Carroll and Walt Whitman, with rousing oratory and emphatic gestures.

One verse began: "Harmonious hog draw near, No bloody butchers here, Thou need'st not fear." That put the crowd of 50 or so in stitches.

Mitchell Harris, an English professor, had not heard about the slam until his wife, Megan, surprised him when they got to the Hill House.

"She told me about that right as we got to the door," he said. "It's nice to have a venue where poetry is read aloud."

A hushed reading of Walt Whitman's ode to President Abraham Lincoln, "O Captain! My Captain!" got some unintended audio assistance from the bells of nearby St. Paul Cathedral, which rang out just as Johnson reached the line "O captain, my captain, hear the bells."

Craig Cox, a self-described "English-major type," said he enjoyed the array of poems that were read. "I think they understand the need for variety. Audiences today want variety - lots of showmanship," he said.

As Johnson began winding up for his delivery of "Casey at the Bat," by Ernest L. Thayer, 7-year-old Caleb Bartels, who learned the poem from his older brother, nearly hopped out of his seat.

Caleb's synopsis of the slam: "Funny."

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  1. What a great idea! I wish this event was local--I would have loved to go.


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