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Posts Tagged ‘poetry slam’

Chico is a cute little town in an expanse of nut groves.  Taz, the organizer of the Chico slam, did the legwork to pack out the Chico Peace and Justice Center. The space felt like home, exactly the mix of woo-woo and militance that I’m used to: prayer flags flapped across the ceiling and a sliding scale zine table at the side of the room.

I was impressed by the performance chops of the slammers. While we were waiting for the spacd to open, we met a man who was there for his very first slam. He looked down and shuffled from foot to foot when I greeted him.  On the mic, he delivered his work with conviction, and landed in third place.  

We were also blessed with the only only queer-specific poem of our whole tour.  Now, coming from Seattle, where queerness and poetry are synonymous, I was surprised by a lack of queer poems as we traveled down the coast.  The poem started “dear mom and dad. . .” and was an unapologetic coming out poem from poet Daniel Smallwood.  It was a real treat.

In so many ways, Chico was warm and welcoming.  I look forward to going back on my next tour of the West Coast.

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Berkeley slammaster Betsy Gomez and me

Berkeley slammaster Betsy Gomez and me

Coming from Seattle, where we take ourselves very seriously, the Berkeley slam was a fresh take on the playfulness of the slam.  Sevan Boult hosted, and reminded everyone to turn off our “asshole alarms,” because if our phones went off, everyone would know we were assholes.  The word of the day was homunculus, and throughout the night, poets substituted the word in their poems.  In the second round, when the audience response was waning, Sevan punished the audience by reading us Suzanne Somers’ poetry.  The spirit of the Berkeley slam reminds me that the slam is a gimmick to get people to listen to poetry, and it’s supposed to be fun!

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Teaching Kevin Holmes to dance, getting photobombed

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me and Janae Million

A Solo cup in every hand, the audience was hyped at the Smashing Slam at a house in Santa Cruz.  The back porch was the stage, with the audience cloaked in real or beer jackets to keep warm in the yard. I opened with my loudest poem, and the chatter cleared, giving way to rapt attention.  After Casey and I performed, a  two round slam with fifteen competitors lasted until well after midnight.  After all that, I expected everyone to disperse, but much of the audience stuck around, trading poems, and listening.  This was the show where I noticed a marked change in performance.  The challenge of the loud crowd forced me to bring the energy up to where they were.

I owe this great experience to Janae Million, the organizer for the show.  I met Janae when she traveled through Seattle, and happened to be staying at my house on a night of a poetry performance.  I mentioned offhandedly that I didn’t have a show booked for Santa Cruz yet, and so Janae set up an entire slam, with opening band Copacetic, to bring us to town.  The audience had an unparalleled amount of energy, and so many people talked to us after the show.  Many thanks for the kindness and time and energy Janae and her housemates put into setting this up.

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Me and Shihan Van Clief

On Tuesday, November 6, Casey Tonnelly and I featured at L.A.’s nearly fifteen-year-old poetry Series, Da Poetry Lounge.

The host Shihan van Clief engaged the audience in a brilliant way that I’d never seen before.  He opened by asking if anyone had seen any movies, and asking audience members to argue with each other about whether a movie was good.  Throughout the show, he talked about the election that day, and even played Mitt Romney’s concession speech on a projector.  The second host, Natalie Patterson,  drew the audience into a conversation about dating protocol. This venue is packed out with 200+ audience members every week because the producers of Da Poetry Lounge relate poetry to everyday life.

I don’t think this is a small triumph: many poets struggle with accessibility.  How do we write interesting, challenging work, and stay relevant to the general population? From Shihan’s inclusive hosting style to the poem on the open mic addressing Kreayshawn to some gorgeous a capella  hip hop pieces, Da Poetry Lounge holds space for people with many different interests to enjoy and create poetry.  I am glad that I had a chance to feature at this venue, and I hope to visit again when I tour the West Coast again.

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Gorgeous work by Rae Senarighi.

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Last night, the Seattle Poetry Slam was a true delight!

Some highlights:

Sara Brickman read a piece in the open mic about the difficulties of defensiveness and expectations in relationships.  She uses a gorgeous, evocative image of one partner bicycling on a tightrope, pulling the other, swinging on a ladder below, all above the teeth of a voracious tiger.  The tension in this piece is so well crafted.  It’s a true treat to hear her new work.

Denise Jolly shared some great new work.  I noted these quotations in the dark, so I apologize if they turn into paraphrase.  Some of her words that I could not get over:  from a poem about heartbreak, “a fishbowl of breath and an elephant of memory.”  “Be more heart than coal mine, but remember you are a coal mine.”   And from her classic piece about her group of friends growing up, “yellow smoke tail wagging between our fingers.”

Matt Blesse read three poems for a spotlight section  of the show, and his first poem, about being adopted was truly touching.  From that, “love was a kite string spooling out from his tiny heart.”  It’s rare that we have spotlight poets in addition to the feature, and it’s not advertised in advanced.  What a nice surprise introduction!

Barton Jackson was brilliant in the form slam.  He started with a pantoum, “Terror Introduces Itself,” written that night, if i’m not mistaken.  From that poem, “a veil of pins and needles.”  Nice.  For his second piece, he performed a sestina.  My favorite line: “sewing bones to make memories in our hands.”  We sure will miss him and his gorgeous poetry when he moves away in September.

I performed “The Gyroscopic Effect,” a pantoum about learning to trust after being hurt.  My second poem was a haiku about gratitude for small blessings, like standing after getting hit by a car.

Until yesterday, I had been absent from the slam for about a month (boy’s gotta sleep), so I had missed a lot of these poets’ voices.  What a great night to get back into it!

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What a fun show!  I only got through one poem near the beginning of the show, so I got to enjoy much of what followed, without worrying about what my next poem would be.

Some highlights: Eirean Bradley’s poem addressed to a new love, after having been divorced was so insightful and powerful.  I finally got to hear Stephen Meads’s Mario poem in person!  Cheryl Maddalena’s “Two Part Poem” never fails to trigger riotous laughter at the hook, “Put it back in! Take it back out!”  Robert Lashley is a master of received forms.  His poem about getting caught making out at church camp and the following enforced separation never fails to move me.  Mary Lambert won the match.  Congratulations, Mary!

A note on the form: the Portland Poetry Slam is all head-to-head, all judged by applause, and this slam was judged in the same way.  I think this form allows a sense of history, for relationships to be built between poets and the audience, since everyone has a vote.  The scoring style of judging allows poets to be judged solely on their performances that evening

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