The game show is "Imminent Jeopardy."
The category: "Bush or Stalin?"
Contestants are challenged to determine whether a given statement describes our very own George W. or the brutal dictator of Russia. For incorrectly identifying Bush, one contestant is handed a couple of sticks of dynamite and unceremoniously blown up. The crowd in the first three rows feels a blast of hot air and goes momentarily deaf. The building's smoke detector sounds. People hold their ears and laugh nervously.
This is not your usual poetry show. This is "The Science of Blowing Up," a series of spoken-word shows created by a group of poets known as the Anarchist Think Tank. The first installation in the series, held in June, was a mixture of poetry, politics and puerile antics. (The exploded contestant is ringer, fellow Anarchist and performance artist Junk Boy.)
According to the Anarchist Think Tank, most poetry shows suck.
"The kind of thing you get taught in English class makes for very boring performances," says member Cecil Hayduke. Coffeehouse poetry, for example, "might be very interesting to read-possibly-but I don't think it's an entertaining show," he says.
The Anarchists describe their series of shows as the "apocalypse of disgust, the farting out of the status quo, a slap in the face to journal mumblers and their coffeehouses." Presumably, that means it won't suck.
Though the Think Tank's Michael Klam concedes their members are really more like boys in men's bodies, he says the group isn't just about "blowing shit up." There's a science, he says, to creating a performance that will move an audience to think and react. They use stunts like "Imminent Jeopardy" to make a point.
"You put Bush up next to Stalin and they look like the same person in a different time and history," Klam explains. "The point isn't that we're violent. We're not trying to scare people. We're trying to hit people with how we view the world and how we see the world politically."
With diverse backgrounds in education, corporate law, politics and business, Think Tank members blend politics and smart, snarky humor to highlight the follies of our political system.
"The motto that [we] have always had [is], "We fuck shit up because things need to be fucked up,'" says Hayduke. "What we're concentrating on with this series is radical poetry. Revolutionary poetry."
The group is bringing a diverse group of spoken-word performers from across the nation to downtown's Voz Alta. The upcoming show on July 23 will feature Michelle Tea, Bucky Sinister and Anna Joy Springer, along with Anarchist thinkers Jimmy Jazz, Hayduke and Klam.
"We're trying to bring performers that will move the audience, so that San Diegans can see that there is real strong, spoken-word poetry out there," says Klam. "We're bringing in some folks that are seasoned professionals, who've been spoken-word performers for a very long time, have published and worked their circuit, and become renowned artists."
Lesbian author and former sex worker Michelle Tea will read from her recently published graphic novel Rent Girl, accompanied by slides of artist Laurenn McCubbin's illustrations. Tea, well known in the San Francisco queer underground, founded Sister Spit, the all-girl open mic event that earned a San Francisco Bay Guardian Best of the Bay Award.
Poet outlaw Bucky Sinister ran the Chameleon poetry reading series in San Francisco from 1991 to 1997, and is the author of two books-King of the Roadkills and the forthcoming Whiskey and Robots.
Anna Joy Springer is a queer artist/writer/punk rock singer and creative writing teacher at UCSD. Her most recent work has been published online at lit-zines Blithe House Quarterly, Nerve Lantern and Avoid Strange Men.
The final show of the series, on Aug. 27, features Derrick Brown, Barry Graham and Jervey Tervalon.
The shows' radical tenor will likely attract San Diego's fringe community, Klam predicts, "but it'll also appeal to anybody who sees what's going on in the world, in the mainstream, and just totally disagrees. Because we try to break down the propaganda as well; we take the evening news and rip it to shreds and throw it back at you."
The Think Tankers wouldn't say what kind of mayhem and absurdity are in store for the upcoming shows, but those familiar with the group know to expect the unexpected.
One might do well to leave their delicate ears and fragile sensibilities at home.
Shows begin at 9 p.m. at Voz Alta, Downtown. $7. 619-230-1869.