Jan 262005
Authors: Kathryn Dailey

The passionate first time of a man making love to a woman was expressed in a blissful rhythm, another poet spoke with real anger against men who beat women, and another performed a poem about the capacity of the heart to survive pain.

Dim lighting and deep red curtains helped create an eclectic and inviting atmosphere Sunday night at the Mercury Caf/ in Downtown Denver.

I walked in to find a diverse audience – people of all different ages, races, sexes and sexual orientations – listening intently to poet Leni Chernila, a professor at Denver University.

Chernila was one of many who read their work at Sunday night's open-mike prior to Mercury's Slam Poetry contest.

As Chernila spoke, I watched the crowd react to the honesty of a man who didn't sugarcoat the harsh realities that inspired his poetry.

"I speak God's honest truth, as hard as I can make it," Chernila said.

His poetry was not about the war in Iraq or political campaigns, but about the day-to-day encounters of everyday people.

The poets that perform here are sharing a part of themselves to the audience, hoping they don't crash and burn, Chernila said.

"They bring an authentic spiritual encounter into the audience," Chernila said.

It's about truth here – taking a precious moment and using words to move something inside the members of the audience. Poets try to take something beautiful and describe it without tainting it.

"Its hard to touch joy on the wings and not break it," Chernila said.

Dino DeLano understands what Chernila is saying; before performing his poetry he was a public speaker. However, public speaking has much more structured dialogue.

"Poetry is more difficult because it's personal," DeLano said. "I write my poetry for me."

Dino DeLano has been performing his poetry at the Mercury Caf/ for six years. In that time he has seen the audience grow continuously, dominated by a younger audience and younger group of poets.

After an hour of open-mike poetry, the contest began. The open-mike poetry has made the audience open to and familiar with listening to the poetry, said Ken Arkind, a member of the Denver Slam Team.

Last year, the Denver Team won second place in the National Poetry Slam. This year they hope to take first place in the national competition in Albuquerque, N.M., Arkind said.

In the slam contest each contestant has three minutes to perform an original piece of poetry, according to www.poetryslam.com. Contestants receive a 10 second grace period before points are deducted from their score. Members of the audience judge the contestants based on both the quality of the poetry and their performance.

When a poet steps on stage the audience falls silent. The honesty and the passion with which he or she performs are as important to capturing the audience as the words said. Topics of controversial nature were discussed with shocking vividness and sensitivity. The young men and women on stage have gained my respect with their artistic talent.

For more information about the Mercury Caf/ go to www.mercurycafe.com or if you are interested in slam poetry visit www.poetryslam.com.

Kathryn Dailey is a sophomore journalism major. She is the assistant entertainment editor at the Collegian.

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