Last Friday night I had the honor of judging a Literary Death Match at the Elbo Room in San Francisco. If you haven’t been to a Literary Death Match, you’re missing out on one of the more vibrant literary events happening today. The one I attended featured host Alia Volz, a natural-born comic, and special guest co-host Will Franken, professional comic. The readers were Monica Nolan, Geoff Bouvier, Jennifer Solow, and John Scott, and my fellow judges were Oscar Villalon, editor of ZYZZYVA, handling literary merit, and novelist April Sinclair, author of Coffee Will Make You Black, testifying about performance.
With that much talent in the room there really wasn’t much I had to do besides sit back and laugh, which was a damn good thing, as it was my job to judge the “intangibles.” I mean, talk about a pothead’s dream job. “Yeah man, I’m in charge of judging the intangibles, man. Like, um . . . what was I saying?”
Not that I am a pothead. There was some beer involved, but no pot that I know of. It has been decades since I qualified to be called a pothead. I can’t even remember when it was.
Which reminds of this thing I did the other night I wanted to tell you about—I had the honor of judging a Literary Death Match at the Elbo Room in San Francisco. If you haven’t been to a Literary Death Match, you’re missing out on one of the more vibrant literary events happening today.
One of the interesting aspects of the evening was getting there. Being a good social media sort of person, I had posted the event on my Twitter and Facebook. I had re-tweeted other people’s references to the event. I had posted it in on my website. All the appropriate smoke signals had been sent.
The only thing I hadn’t done was make a note of the location of the LMD for myself, like maybe on the back of my hand. You see, that is one of the disadvantages to technology. It is so easy to pass along someone else’s writing—“here’s a link to the website”—that I sometimes forget to pay proper attention to what’s going on.
Which was why I found myself wandering around the Mission, asking people if they knew where I could find a Literary Death Match. A prostitute offered to help me for $50.
Eventually I worked it out and made my way to the Elbo Room. Just before the event began I asked fellow judge April Sinclair what “intangibles” meant, and she said “It’s an abstract quality, an attribute you can’t quite put your finger on.” Which wasn’t really what I was asking—I meant, “What the hell is my job tonight?”
I still don’t know the answer to that question. We three judges did our best to make judicious decisions, but frankly, all four readers were very good. And anyhow, the winner was determined by having the finalists, Bouvier and Nolan, read passages from Leibniz and from Leibniz-parodying Voltaire as marshmallows were relentlessly stuffed into their mouths. This wasn’t a competition for the faint of heart, or for people who want to hear readings addressing life’s most serious side. When squirt and Nerf guns are used to enforce the rules, the lighter side is bound to emerge. But then, all four contenders knew how to turn a phrase, tell a story, and make us laugh.
If you haven’t attended a Literary Death Match yet, I urge you to make your way to the next one you can. They are being held all over the world. If you’re having trouble finding one, don’t panic—just ask the nearest prostitute. And while you’re at it, invite her along.