Robert Gill

(Source: Robert Gill)
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Due to the dynamic presentation of the poetry slam format, the audience takes an active role in its participation, particularly in scoring participants. Although he does not refer to himself as a “Slam Poet,” Robert Gill, or Bob, is a key person in the organization of the poetry slam community. For ten years, Bob had been serving as the treasurer and webmaster of the Poets’ Asylum up until 2012.

Bob became acquainted with the asylum in 1997 when a friend of his at WPI with a degree in English and Technical Writing introduced him to the asylum. Due to the active nature of the slam, it drew people in and had them get involved after that draw. He now acts as the treasurer for the Worcester County Poetry Association, which deals with more traditional poetry events.

Due to the creative work in poets, Bob works counter to the poets by bringing organization equivalently to what he calls “herding cats.” For a task such as this, Bob has been extremely rewarding, allowing him to help contribute to this community, and he believes that he has gotten as much out of it as he gave it.

The treasury part of his job involved raising money every year during weekly reading. If there was a featured poet, the group would have had to pay that feature by passing the bucket. He also managed the money for raising money to send poets to the National Poetry Slam, covering plane tickets, registration, and lodging. Bob was also involved with organizing the 2005 Individual World Poetry Slam hosted in Worcester, hosting a group of 64 poets. During that competition, Tuckerman Hall was used for the finals of that competition. Money was used to pay for advertising, programs, signage, the deposit for the Hall, and other expenses during February. Organization also involved bussing poets from Logan Airport to Worcester in the snow.

When Bob started, he wanted to help contribute to the success of the community that drew him in. Although some have moved away and perhaps started slam in other parts of the country, others have had to leave due to other commitments. Locale has also changed throughout the years here, with places such as the Java Hut closing down. There is now a resurgence of people coming in to the asylum.

For Bob, Worcester is unique due to the lack of a single voice. Other poetry slam communities may feature a single voice that scores well and is the focus of imitation, but Worcester features poets that are both serious and comical, allowing for a broad range of unexpected topics. The other unique aspect that breeds creativity is the lack of focus on the scores. Everyone has their own separate voice, and while they take bits and pieces, no one really tries to match someone else to gain scores.

The difficulty with drawing a crowd comes in many different forms. The draw of the scoring has waned, so the crowds are as large as they used to be. Technology has also changed the way crowds have looked at slams. Years ago, before youtube existed, the only way to learn about slam was to go and venture into the community. Now, videos exist showcasing performances on the Internet. It is in Bob’s opinion that it helps with diversity, but there exists a bit of a limit because there’s less of the experience of going out and meeting the community.

That isn’t to say that technological progress hasn’t helped in some ways, however. While the asylum held readings at Jumpin Juice and Java, currently the New Café, Wi-Fi was available, so readings were streamed to poets who could not be there. For other places without wi-fi access, readings were recorded and posted on youtube for those who could not be physically part of the community.