Sunday, September 13, 2009

How I Became "Grendel"

Grendel, in Beowulf, was a monster of some kind. There are different concepts of what he was . . . some say a dragon-like creature, others say he was more like an ogre or giant, and still others say he was a descendant of the Biblical Cain.
The way i picked up the nickname is kind of humorous. Back in late 1999 and early 2000, there were a group of us--Slam poets--in my hometown of Roanoke, who started going to schools doing exhibitions of Slam poetry. Word got around to several middle and high schools that we were turning kids on to the concept of poetry, giving them a different view than what they'd had from textbooks. Teachers loved getting the kids hooked on something that would have been regarded as "dull"or "boring." We presented in perhaps a dozen middle and high schools, as well as a couple of local colleges. The first school we went to, we were performing for a single classroom (later on, we packed auditoriums!). The current unit that they were studying in English class was "Beowulf." The teacher asked if we could somehow tie that concept into our presentation. That "hook" was given to me, and of course i told the kids that Slam was actually a modern-day descendant of the old oral tradition . . . that the concept of "competition poetry" went back to ancient Greece, and to the Anglo-Saxon bardic tales . . . and then i performed this poem i wrote, called "Sympathy for Grendel," which was a re-telling (albeit much shorter) of the Beowulf story from Grendel's point of view, that Grendel was just a victim of "bad press." Pretty soon, the Slammers occasionally referred to me as "Grendel." When i moved to NJ, i dusted off the moniker, and decided that since Grendel was a predator who trashed the "status quo" of his time, that the new Grendel personna was perfect for my rants and tirades. It also fits with the kind of stage presence i adopt when i'm performing those rants . . . stalking around, glaring at the audience, kind of a "predatory" stance. When i went to the Open Mic in Newark for the first time, i signed in simply as "Grendel." That's how i was known there from that point on. Later, hanging out in NYC, i introduced myself to the Union Square "Park Rats" as Grendel, and that's what most of them still would call me. Ask 'em about Todd, and only a couple would know who you were talking about. Ask 'em about "Grendel," and they'll probably tell you some stories. Some of 'em might even be true. You never know . . . .