BELFAST - On stage at the Playhouse Theater, Jacob Fricke prepared to recite a poem with his hands behind his back. It would be a challenge for “an inveterate hand talker,” like himself, he said.
Fricke had organized the event as a poetry slam, but along the way it had turned into something else — “uncharted territory, he would say, at one point with a kind of muted giddiness.
An hour earlier, it had been a different story.
Looking over the nearly empty rows of folding chairs in the moments before showtime, Fricke’s hands were the only thing talking, and it was an anxious conversation.
Fricke started hosting poetry slams in 2012, near the end of his two-year appointment as poet laureate of Belfast. Since then, he has continued to hold the competition-style events on odd-numbered months.
As of Nov. 22, Fricke had organized a half dozen poetry slams, and nearly all of them been held at the Playhouse Theater. Filling the small storefront on Church Street had never been a problem. But on that Friday, fewer than 10 people came.
Poetry slams have been around for nearly 30 years, and to a casual observer they may seem to be no-holds-barred affairs. In terms of subject matter, language and physical movement, slams are wildly more permissive than traditional, academic — what Fricke calls “Roberty Frosty” — readings.
But along the way the misfits dialed in their own set of rules, one of which is that it takes a certain number of people to play.
Coming up short was new to Fricke, and it seemed to take him genuinely by surprise.
He fidgeted. Maybe he would suggest some kind of relay, he said. One poet could read, then the next.
By the time he took the stage, however, his provisional plan had coalesced into something else. It was the first of its kind, and he named it with authority: poetry filibuster marathon.
For the next two hours, Midcoast poets Laurence Coe, Doug Brown, Josh Kauppila and Fricke held the stage, trading poems in a friendly, and untested, contest of endurance. No one was injured.
Fricke describes how it went down in the video above, filmed and edited by Wes Sterrs.
Included is one of 17 poems read by Doug Brown, titled “Old Number 7” after an elixir sold in Brooks in the 1940s. Brown said the medicine claimed to treat venereal diseases, and was marketed to — or perhaps created specifically for — returning World War II soldiers.
Fricke said he plans to continue the bi=monthly schedule of poetry slams. On alternate months, current Belfast Poet Laureate Ellen Sander has started an open mic-style poetry event at Bell the Cat in Belfast.