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Posts Tagged ‘slam poetry’

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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I went to my very first National Poetry Slam in Cambridge, Mass, and it was mostly wonderful!  

The most important things I learned:
1.  The rock stars of poetry are usually pretty kind and welcoming.  Being famous and/or skilled at the craft doesn’t make anyone a jerk.  Being a performer doesn’t preclude folks from being thoughtful and genuine.  The community won’t support assholish behavior.  
2.  My writing and performance are national stage calibre. I don’t need to be afraid that my work isn’t good enough.
3.  There is more good poetry in the world than I could ever hear, more kind people than I could ever meet.
4.  Scores have less meaning than I ever imagined.
5.  When people say “poetry family,” they’re not fucking around.

The poetics:
On Saturday night, I went to the Queer Women of Color +Friends dance night at the Midway (it’s all fancy now, but the floors are still delightfully sticky) and heard this brilliant emcee, Micah, perform.  His rhymes were lovingly defiant, and it was a wonderful high-energy way to start off the week!

Before the official events began, Jacob Dinklage and Kirsten (together known as Spider Cider), and I traded poems and songs at my former house, the Burrow, in sunny lower Allston.  Some of my favorites: Jacob’s image connecting the dots to draw himself and a song about appreciating the beauty in everyone’s art, while Kirsten swings the upright bass and vocals.  

On Monday, Erin Jackson and Tony Bee steadfastly hosted an otherwise chaotic opening ceremonies open mic. Favorites from the evening: Erich Hagan’s poem “Dungeon Dragon” about femme masculinity and Casey’s hilarious “Out-Jesus” poem, about one-upping people who try to convert them on the street.  Also, someone called me William Blake after I performed “Lucifer to the Almighty,” which was pretty fucking flattering.

At Tuesday’s rookie open mic, I was floored by Jacob Victorine’s poem “War.”  He draws parallels between hands as the creators of language and weapons, and words as weapons.  Brilliant! That night, I saw Nick Macedo from Hollywood’s Da Poetry Lounge perform a poem on breath and making life worth living, because the breath we take comes from the earth.  I want to hear that poem over and over.  Then, I went to the Slammasters’ Slam, and loved Danny Solis’s piece about  using his experience as a grandfather to empathizewith a bereaved Palestinian father.

On Wednesday morning, I was blessed to go to the slam as a safe space workshop, hosted by Sonya Renee and facilitated by Maureen Benson.  They provided time to have an emotional response to a situation, and then come back and talk about what works and doesn’t work about the situation.  The process was an extremely pragmatic model to analyze a situation and compassionately work through issues.  Wonderdave’s parody poem about saving a woman who loves IV drugs and kittens in hats was brilliant, and needed to be said.  Spoofs can provide some of the best commentary, when they’re done right, and this one was exceptional.  The best thing from the late evening was Stephen Meads’s persona/epistle poem, a letter to Fred Durst from Meatwad of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.  I laughed so hard the blood vessels on the back of my head hurt.  I thought I was going to die.

Thursday, the Salt Lake City Team was phenomenal.  I was particularly moved by Gray’s piece “Life in Reverse,” in which he explores undoing all the harm we do to ourselves and each other. The queer reading that night was so inspired and gorgeous, especially Marty McConnell’s thoughtful, spiritual poem about kink.  

Friday, the Write Bloody Showcase: Lauren Zuniga’s poem proclaiming our working of daily miracles was exactly what I needed to hear.  Also, Tara Hardy’s poem about grief, the one that talks about fish growing feet and leaving their family behind, makes me cry every time.  I also laugh loudly every time at Karen Finneyfrock’s “Monster,” about the moody adolescent spring in Seattle.  That night, at group piece finals, Eclectic Truth’s persona piece, from the perspective of cockroaches proclaiming their superiority over humans, was powerfully written and expertly choreographed.  

NUPIC was everything I had been promised.  I was so glad to hear Rachel McKibbens’ “Letter from my Heart to my Brain.”  That poem has comforted me since I lost my beloved friend Liam.  I listened to it on repeat right after he died, and  I was so blessed to hear Rachel perform it in person.  The second half, “Letter from my Brain to my Heart,” added a new dimension to this piece that I love so much.  Sooo gorgeous.  

On Saturday, the rescheduled semifinals with Salt Lake, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Providence, and Oakland was amazing, possibly my favorite show all week.  Highlights were Phil Kaye’s poem about gentrification, which began, “This place is amazing.  This place is amazing.  This place is a maze.”  Later, at finals, Providence brought it, with Jamila Woods’ delightfully crass persona piece“Pigeon Man,”  and Phil Kaye’s poem about semantic satiation, just twisty and gorgeous

And then there was dancing.  I went to three different queer dance parties while in Boston, and oh my, I love to dance!

Although I loved NPS, there were a few things I could have done without.  People brandished the B word around like a pillow at a slumber party. Many men spoke poems about saving women.  The women, according to the men speaking, only do drugs and have too much sex because their daddies didn’t love them enough.  Of course the men poet’s love is so deep, so strong, so true that they could save the women in question, if they would only accept his stalkerish creepdom as the One True Love it obviously represents.  At a Wednesday night cipher, I heard at least three such poems in a row.  The sexism was on stampede, yall.  I didn’t take note of the names or locations of the poets who brought that particular poem to the event, but it was everywhere.

Mostly, I was glad to have been able to go, and I’m excited about going to listen at WOWPS in enver next year, and then NPS again in Charlotte.

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