From the write-ups of the Soapboxing slams, one might anticipate that Slam Poetry in the twin cities is almost entirely lacking in female voice. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, judging from SlamMN’s final qualifying slam of the season. By the time the list was filled (almost as soon as Kieran’s opened the Titanic Lounge doors to the slam crowd), exactly half the list was women.
Em opened up the evening with a weighty piece about rape, her writing style and performance beginning to mature visibly since her performance in January. The Reverend Pat D followed with a piece discussing autism and Asperger’s syndrome, though in his usual style, getting grimaces and shocked laughter from the audience. Rob Weekend then did a piece about losing his virginity, which Wonder Dave grabbed as fodder for part of his “Sexy” piece- an examination of the things we as humans become obsessed with in terms of image, when we could be thinking about other things.
A high school poet named Sol then followed, with a hiphop style piece about a new renaissance. The all ages status of SlamMN also reaped more wealth of talent in the next performer, Isaac Eide, who performed a love poem beyond the juvenile sorts of high school rhymes most of us were writing as 17 year olds. Added bonus was the introduction he gave the poem “I recently found out that this is about a one night stand I didn’t have.” El Guante made his first appearance of the season at Kieran’s with his “Last Words of a Roach Underfoot”, a love poem between gritty bugs.
Hailey Day made a re-appearance with another hiphop style poem, examining academia. Another two poems of very young poets followed: Amanda Jackson brought out a piece about relationships, and BJ told in hiphop style the story of a jailed man. Ruth Kohtz had the room gasping for breath at the end of the first round, with a poem about the fear of flowers falling from the sky- and not taking the beauty of the world for granted. The first round was a well met competition, with a few very experienced poets, a few yearling poets, and a lot of very fresh, very talented new faces.
Feature for the night was poet Ami Mattison, from Detroit. With just a week before poets leave for Detroit for the Women of the World poetry slam, Mattison was a perfect feature. A reminder that a poet is not necessarily delicate, polite, and sweet just because she is a woman, Mattison performed a fierce poem about the stupidity of her smoking, an egotistical piece about her sexual prowess, and a bellowing sarcastic piece about war. A brilliant writer besides, Mattison was strength on the stage this past Tuesday.
The second round narrowed the poets, and the poetry hit topics such as Nebraska, shopping carts, and love, before bowling into the third and final round.
Narrowed to two experienced poets, two yearlings, and a high school poet, the third round demonstrated more of the same gender equality in poetic strength, with two men and three women competing. Taking third place was Wonder Dave with a hilarious piece about long-haired men, with El Guante in second with a piece about ships and the sea, and Ruth Kohtz reigning victorious with her beautiful piece about the ocean.
Huge thanks again to Michael Tran for doing amazing photography.
So, what makes Kieran’s more of a male/female balanced venue than the AQ? Hard to say. Matthew Rucker has referred to Soapboxing as the veteran’s slam, though Soapboxing gives preference on their list to new performers, so that’s debatable, at least in the regular slam season. Another option could be that the AQ’s 18+ requirement weeds out younger performers, though from the looks of the Kieran’s lists, there are equal numbers of young male and female performers at the SlamMN slams. Ultimately, it comes down to where performers are going, and to which venues poets bring their friends. If the AQ wants to have a more balanced number of performers, they need to make an effort to recruit female performers, and an effort to put female performers on stage to serve as example. This falls both on the shoulders of the slammaster, and of poets (both male and female) in the scene.
It will be interesting, too, to look at how both venues will make the scenes more diverse culturally, and how they will also make the scenes more representative of the GLBTQ populations. I think, ultimately, giving mic time to those who are underrepresented at present, is going to be the biggest moving force to create a rich, competitive and collaborative scene. When people see those they identify with on stage, and with a voice, it reminds them of their own voice and encourages them to use it. I have a lot of confidence in the Twin Cities spoken word scene being able to do this- there has been a lot of friendly, open dialogue amongst performers and also with their audiences- there are few places as encouraging, collaborative, and open-eared in my experience.
This was the last “qualifying” slam for Kieran’s SlamMN this season. The April slam will be the semi-finals, which will pit the best poets of this spring and winter against each other for a chance to compete in the finals in May, which will take the top 6 poets from each of the two semi-finals (April’s and the one that took place this past winter), and decide who will represent Minneapolis in the National Poetry Slam this August in Florida. These will be two intense months of amazing poetry, and it is not to be missed. The summer will mark fundraising season for the slam team, with lots of excellent themed slams for poets of all experience levels to compete in.