Milton and Eliot probably didn't start out this way reading poetry in front of a mirror in a North Lawrence bar but Daphne Young did.
On Monday night, Young, a Kansas University junior, got on stage beneath the red and blue lights of the Flamingo Club and read a couple of funny poems about bikers who drink Boone's Farm wine.
The crowd of more than 70 people, many sitting at tables and drinking the beverage of their choice, laughed at Young's lithe comic turns, as her poems sent two biker lovers beneath the wheels of a semi.
Strange as this may seem, this type of thing happens there every other Monday night. It's called a Poetry Slam.
"You just go ahead and do it,'' Young said during the opening night of the current Poetry Slam series. "The way I write happens to fit the atmosphere. I'd be in for some unfortunate heckling if it didn't work out, but I don't care.''
THE POETRY Slams started last semester and will continue on alternate Mondays, except for spring break, through May. In a typical slam, poets who are selected beforehand from open mike nights by the organizers stand on stage and read. Then people at chosen tables judge the quality of the poems, much as judges rate Olympic ice skaters or divers. The poet with the highest score wins and goes on to the Grand Slam, to be held May 11.
Monday night, however, wasn't a typical Slam. Jim McCrary and Cheryl Lester, who organized the events, threw the mike open on a non-competitive basis to get more people interested in reading poetry. The slams resume Feb. 10.
"Tonight was intended to fix some of the problems we had last semester,'' said Lester, an assistant professor of English at KU. "We wanted people who aren't participating to get up and read to get a real mix of groups.''
THE SLAM concept began on the coasts, Lester said. Last summer, she watched a New York slam on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and McCrary saw one in San Francisco. They decided to bring one to Lawrence, and they stumbled on the unusual location because of its availability and its lack of pretention.
"Paul Lim (assistant professor of English) came up with the idea of having it here,'' Lester said. "We decided it was the perfect place for it, and other places were too booked.''
The competitive nature of the event seems to bring out the angrier, franker poetry, Lester said.
"Emily Dickinson wouldn't do it,'' she said. "We've had some more lyrical poems read, some that were less vulgar, but they haven't won.''
Nevertheless, local poets see the Slam as a refreshing outlet for their work.
"I WAS in the first slam, and I didn't win,'' said Judith Roitman, a professor of mathematics at KU, who read two poems Monday night. "I think it's really loosened the poetry scene up. It's put poetry in a setting that's not pretentious.''
The poetry ranged Monday night from reflections on New York Times articles to couples going to bed at night to a tribute to Jack Kerouac. Lester said the crowd was smaller and more subdued than usual, mainly because of the format.
"This place is usually packed," Lester said.