Slam poetry is a competition, and the slam finals decide who represents a venue at the National Poetry Slam. This is true all across the country (and beyond the U.S), and takes place in bars, coffeeshops, and other slam venues in cities from Honolulu to Toronto, and sees almost 90 teams of poets, competing to be named the best in the World. It’s a lot of competition, a lot of pressure, and often creates animosity between poets and scenes. The twin cities are not without this competition, but it is uniquely balanced with a collaboration and support seen in few other cities.
Slam followers will notice a lot of the same faces on stage (and in this blog) at both the AQ and Kieran’s. This isn’t because of some sort of conspiracy where only *some* performers get reviewed or stage time, but because most performers are happy to perform at either venue. MN poets are also excited to work with one another on their writing and performance skills- champs and underdogs, veteran poets and slam virgins, middle agers and high school students alike have gathered in coffeeshops and livingrooms to work their writing and performance. This is generally an amazing and wonderful quality to the twin cities slam scene. Unfortunately, coupled with the unpredictable whim of judges, we will occasionally encounter situations like the one the scenes faced this spring.
The Saint Paul Soapboxing slam qualified 8 poets (7 when one poet could not make it to the slam) to compete for 5 slots, and the Minneapolis SlamMN slam qualified 11 poets (again missing one poet, for 10 poets)- with an overlap of 5 poets qualified for both slam finals, with four of the Soapboxing 2009 team (from May 6th) qualified to compete for the SlamMN 2009, even though a poet can only be on one team. As no rule exists for poets bowing out of finals or semi-finals, poets could not be “bumped up” to the final slam without endangering SlamMN’s contract with Poetry Slam, Inc (who runs the National poetry slam, and under whose non-profit umbrella registered slams operate.)
Even so, two of St. Paul’s team chose to bow out of the competition and take on other roles at the Minneapolis Finals slam, allowing the spotlight to fall more heavily upon the competitors for the Minneapolis slots. The evening was guest hosted by the lovely, and occasionally flustered Sierra DeMulder.
The audience was treated to all-star sacrifice poems, first from Rhe (who left Minnesota for New Orleans last winter, but can’t help coming back) who performed a poem called, “Said the Otter to the Squid”, an interspecies love poem in Rhe’s trademark anarchronistic beautiful prose.
Then multiple-slam team representative, slam titan Cynthia French presented a heart-breaking favorite, “Venice.”
The slam began in earnest, and, as sometimes happens a theme came out in the poetry ensuing- this time? Prince. You can bet this blogger/disc jockey wished she had some Prince in her iTunes that night.
Kieran’s patons were treated to mid-slam sacrifices from El Guante and Sierra DeMulder, if you imagine cockroaches and Jeffrey Dahmer are treats (if you know these poets, you must know they were surprising and amazing.)
Winning the right to represent Minneapolis were Sam Cook, Michael Shaffer, Dylan, and Heather a.k.a. Heather. As a team, they’re a really fresh, interesting mix of poets.
Sam brings a relentless intensity to the team, a passion that sometimes renders him frenetic in his energy. If Sam and his team can rein in his energy a little more reliably, Sam is a powerhouse on stage and in writing, making the audience putty in his hands.
Michael Shaeffer is quite possibly the most prolific poet I know, bringing new poems to the stage almost every time I’ve seen him perform. His work is pop-culture laden, nerdy, upbeat with occasional bittersweet moments. He excels in being entertaining, and will bring a lot to the team if he gives some time to editing, polishing, and strategizing.
Dylan is new to the scene and quite a youngster, though calling him precocious would be understating the sort of promise he has. Skinny, young poet with an already deep voice, and poetry so dense and delicious, you almost wish you could hand out paper copies so that the audience could sit and digest what he’d said, and the multiple levels he’s working on. Dylan will be a titan when he has worked out the performance aspects of slam, but he’s got a great team to work with.
Heather a.k.a. Heather has a limited catalogue of poems, and has been more scarce this season, but brought well-polished, well-performed pieces to the stage for Finals. Her poems are often self-mockingly whining or tongue-in-cheek teasing, but she has a lot of potential for depth, too. Her polish will serve her well on the team as Heather hits punchlines precisely and builds intensity perfectly, but more exciting will be watching her next season- to see where her writing goes next.
The scene is full of talented poets, some of whom did not make the team, but nevertheless add something necessary to the collective creativity and challenge that the twin cities boast.
Rhe was not the only one to return to the welcoming arms of the twin cities slam scene- Casey Degnan also came back for Finals, with his lush prose and perfect boyish perspective.
EZRA graced the stage as well, with his dark sweet wit, going after the things we love most dearly, like the Goonies.
This concludes the “regular” slam season. The summer will be filled with charming “gimmick” slams, to lighten the tone for a bit, and force some creativity back into the competition. I personally look forward to the American Idol Slam at the AQ, and the Geek Slam at Kierans, amongst lots of other summer craziness. First the American Idol Slam on June 1st at the AQ, and then the Dead Poets Slam on June 9th at Kieran’s. Be there, or be somewhere lamer.
-Cole (Enormous thanks to Justin Schell for his video work and to Michael Tran for his photography. You guys are amazing.)