PILSEN — Write a poem on the fly in 30 seconds and perform it in front of total strangers.
That’s what’s known as the “Candy Round” at Word Up!, a poetry slam coming to Pilsen in late March.
The two men who started the slam — Ramon Charriez and Tim "Kimo" Brien — met several years ago at a sketch fest put on by Charriez’s Latin comedy group Salsation.
“I played the white Obama,” said Brien, who now works at Salsation.
In Word Up!’s Candy Round, two finalists out of the original six poets go head to head in an improvised poetry slam that leaves even many experienced poets in the dust.
And the first four poets knocked out become the judges for the remaining two.
“So those that you beat are now those that are judging you,” Brien said.
“A la 'Survivor,'” Charriez said, smiling.
To take the edge off, Charriez and Brien provide the six participants in the slam with an hour of improvisation training with a Second City alum.
Past Word Up! shows have featured a diverse group of poets from across Chicago, Charriez said.
The few who showed up to Wednesday’s Word Up! auditions fit that bill.
“Like Marlon Brando,” poet Marlon Salgado said as he said as he spelled his name.
Salgado, a senior at Little Village Lawndale High School, said he started writing poetry two years ago as a way to deal with arguments he’d get into with his father as well as “the things I seen in my neighborhood.”
“Can you see what lies behind 17-year-old second grade handwriting threats? Sent like World War II messages, trenches are dug, deeper than the mud,” Salgado said in his audition.
After reading their prepared poems, the poets had 30 seconds to come up with a poem based on a word or phrase thrown out by Charriez and Brien.
“C-Major Scale” was the phrase given to Kenneth Reed, a 47-year-old from Rogers Park.
Reed picked it up and let it flow.
“The key is not to fail like the C-Major scale, but to survive and strive,” he riffed.
“Boo-yah,” Brien said after Reed’s improv.
The winning poet at the slam will get $25 and a medal and will automatically be a participant in the next Word Up! slam.
The Pilsen slam will be held on March 30 at the yet-unopened NiteCap Café — formerly Café Mestizo — at 1738 W. 18th St. Tickets are $8. Check out Salsation’s website for more details.