In addition to performing again, Bill Barnum (currently recovering at home) also has future publication to look forward to. His poem, "Satan's Marbles," will be included in an anthology that documents the history of the Boston Poetry Slam at The Cantab Lounge, a series that has existed in Boston for over twenty years. Bill Barnum is not only featured in the anthology, but he is also its first entry. What follows is a preview of the book with introductions to Barnum's section by Boston poetry mainstays Richard Cambridge and Robyn Su Millerz. Thanks to anthology editor Adam Stone for permission.
"The first thing you need to know is Billie is still writing, memorizing, choreographing, and performing every week at Squawk Coffeehouse. Mostly new material! At Eighty-Six! And I don’t mean three-minute poems. We allow Billie whatever he brings us, and it’s mostly ten minutes of word-dance. Only once in the last four or five years did I see him miss a line and have to go to his notebook to find his place. He shows up around 10pm, and closes the place with his latest piece. Billie is a paradox — a spoken-word mime. Think about that. Most folks think he’s some kind of ethereal-surreal free verse wordman, but in fact, if you get a peek at his journal you’ll see they are formal, rhyming, mostly iambic pentameter structured poems. Billie is such a master you never hear that singsong end-rhyme ‘cause he’s got you mesmerized with his dervish dance.
Most folks don’t know this, but Billie was a regular slammer, week-after-week. He never did win one that I recall. His work was on some other plane. To give him a score would be like trying to write on the river running by. I once asked Billie why he slammed. “For the money,” he said to me, matter-of-factly.
My favorite memory of Billie is on Finals Night when the National Slam came to town in ‘92. Michael Brown gave Billie his props and introduced him to the audience. Billie did the opening feature dressed in his cap & bells, and pixieslippers, and wowed the crowd. No one had ever seen the likes of him before.
Billie is as rare and pure as a unicorn, and he hides in plain sight among us."
"Billy Barnum is an ageless portal to a nearly bygone era. His mind channels a time most poets have forgotten, when poems were danced. Rhymes are still used as a mnemonic device but the practice of placing a step to mark the “feet” in a line is all but forgotten. Although it will be a treat to see his work on page, those privileged to have seen him perform will remember the hush that fell over the room in order for us to marvel at each step that found its mark and catch each word that floated up out of his pipes, and his presence, rhythm and sound will echo within as we read."
―Robyn Su Millerz