- National Poetry Slam - Worcester Team
Bill MacMillan is a slam poet from the late 80’s working with the Worcester Artist Group. The poetry readings under his and Lea Deschenes’ management became known as the “Poets’ Asylum.” While working at a coffee house, the Coffee Kingdom, poets from the Slam scene in Chicago came to Worcester to attempt to set up a poetry slam. Enticed by the prospect of winning $10, Bill tried out Poetry Slam for the first time.
He both loved and hated it. He loved the feeling of being on stage performing with the energy and fun but did not care for the scoring, although it was interesting as a draw for an audience. This scoring brought a lot more people into it, and the slam was done monthly in conjunction with weekly readings. In 1993, they fielded a pickup team in San Francisco which hosted the National Poetry Slam Tournament. In 1994, he was part of the team sent to Ashville, North Carolina. Seeing so many poets in a single location, the energy took hold of Bill to build a modern poetry scene in Worcester. Using the strong poetry roots in Worcester cultivated by the Worcester County Poetry Association, Bill used the foundation to build a slam community.
Having grown up in Worcester, Bill is familiar with the Blue collar feel of Worcester and attributes Worcester with a scrappy, enthusiastic, straightforward style of poetry. The people of Worcester are working class, and this ties Worcester with other poetry slam communities of that type, with what Bill calls “Second City Teams.” There are close ties with Providence and Manchester, which are also old factory towns. These gritty towns found each other at tournaments and supported each other, such as meeting Faith Hill, Arkansas’s team.
For Bill, the scores are secondary to the enjoyment of the slam. Bill’s mantra has always been that “There is someone in the audience that needs to hear that poem.” Connecting with the audience has always been the goal, and learning that he’s connected with that one person is the most rewarding feeling he has ever gotten while performing. His advice to other poets is always that “If you win a championship, it should be a surprise.” Aiming for doing it the way the poet wants it, the poem should be fun while keeping the audience in mind. For Bill, the slam is a conversation. The three minutes on stage are the poet’s side, while off the stage, the audience has a say. Along that vein, his legacy in people remembering him is less important than having the art stay alive. As long as he can still inspire someone years later, that is what matters more to him.
Although Bill used to be the head of the Poets’ Asylum, he now takes a more low key role in the management, allowing a more relaxed time at the asylum. From Bill’s point of view, there comes a point when people move on from poetry slam to the next thing in their life. The skills in poetry slam are useful, and the people in the Worcester community seem to be open to allowing skills to bleed between occupations. This helps with the dual characteristics of the Worcester artists, who take on a daytime occupation or hobby along with their night time exploits as poets.
Bill’s inspirations range from many different artists, but many are performance artists who are situated in Worcester. Artists include Patricia Smith, Michael Brown, Lea Deschenes, and Tony Brown. The topics he enjoys writing about are whatever he feels, and he is inspired by the fearlessness exhibited by many of his fellow writers.
In terms of coaching, Bill feels honored when someone comes up to him for advice, although he tries not to change the voice of the poet asking for advice. His style of mentoring does not require that a person take the advice, and his advice consists of ways of trying to strengthen a poem while maintaining the voice. In terms of performance, he encourages having faith in oneself, as nervousness on stage will be prevalent as long as a person cares about his or her art.