He dealt in the genre known as "slam" poetry. Although I was in Paul Carroll's poetry workshop around the time Marc Smith was inventing the format at Chicago's Green Mill, I was never a follower. The milieu escaped me. When it comes to writing—as distinct from oratory—it is hard to fathom what value can come from the ad hoc spontaneous (or extemporaneous) judgement of a gaggle of one's peers. Chin wrote, not without insight, in what I take to be the best passage of the book:
I always liked the risk of doing queer work to a predominantly straight and white audience, whether they would understand the references or not. There is so much middle-of-the-road work in the slams, so much bland sweetness, and, God! all those poems about poems. Maybe I'm being a little harsh and somewhat bratty here, in the end. It is not a great revelation that different people have different realities that will be written about. We can't all have drug problems and dysfunctional families. But at the same time, because of the judging element and the drive of competition, so often the real work, the true work, and the work that should be read, that needs to be heard, that reflects a fuller spectrum of our individual, our societal, and our communal experiences, is not.
Since reading Mongrel, I've had occasion to reflect about the nature of "slam" poetry (or perhaps even "poetry" deserves quotation marks), and at last figured out what it is. "Slam" is not—as I have often heard suggested—a variant of rap for people who lack the talent to rap. Rather, it is a verbal form of karaoke. Whereas karaoke mimics songs originally performed (and recorded) by others, "slam" mimics rhythms originally invented (and written) by others. Like karaoke, its function is essentially social, a sort of literate (if not literary) pastime for communal gatherings.
Chin's untimely death is undoubtedly a tragedy—I don't know the details—as well as a loss to the community of "wordsmiths," as I believe "slammers" designate themselves. Though not of their crop, and only familiar with "slam" in the most cursory way, reports of his demise reached me through many acquaintances; although I did not know him, or know of him, I could not but feel regret at his passing.
May he rest in peace.