by Cole Sarar, photos and audio by Justin Schell, photos and video Cole Sarar
It’s been about six months since the last time I personally wrote up a slam at the AQ, and I felt like instead of my usual play-by-play and description of individual poems, I’d talk a little bit about the overarching things I’ve noticed about slams in the past year I’ve been writing them up.
We’ll start with category 1: Things of which the AQ has been increasingly more representative, and of which I want to encourage them (the poets, the hosts, the organizers, and the audience) to push for more.
1. Poets of color. I don’t want the twin cities’ Khary “6 is 9″ Jackson to serve as some sort of South Park style “token” person of color (He’s a much more talented poet than that implies), and the more races we have represented, the better. We’re beginning to see poets coming up from the youth scene to represent a wider narrative of races, but for as rich as the spoken word and hiphop scenes are, our slam scene still needs poets to be brave enough to challenge what is a rather white stage. Hieu, I’m talking to you.
Soapbox success in this venue: bringing Laura Yes Yes to feature. I have long held that we must lead by example, and Laura is an outspoken proponent of a lot of welcome open-mindedness that slam purports to be a believer in. Laura is a fireball of a woman, not soft-voiced, apologetic, or censored. She talks openly of race, and breaking down racial barriers.
Poet success in this venue: Just up from the youth scene, Brittany Delaney didn’t plan on competing in an AQ slam this autumn, and also probably didn’t plan on winning second place and the right to represent Saint Paul and Soapboxing in the Women of the World Poetry Slam this spring. Delaney’s poems are dramatic and touch on difficult social issues- and in spite of being young, she performs with all the polish and poise of an old pro.
2. GLBQT poets. Diversity, diversity, diversity. Again, the way to win this battle is by getting representative poets on stage. I can’t really say whether this has been something the AQ has been succeeding at or not- Minneapolis Slammaster Wonder Dave is, much like Khary, much more than just token diversity. Kieran’s has featured more GLBQT poets than the AQ in the past year, but both are noticing the arrival of Miles to their stages, a young poet whose pieces often strike upon the trials of not fitting into social norms for gender identity.
3. Out of town poets. It’s something I’d never seen happen here before, but have done in other cities personally. It is amazing how incredibly different poetry from different parts of the country are, and have them actually challenge our local poets by competing in our slams. It’s good for us as poets to be challenged to remember what a big pond it is out there, when we have the National Poetry Slam coming to Saint Paul in the summer of 2010; it’s good for the community, to know how widespread and professional the slam scene is, to know what an amazing treat they’ll be in for this summer.
Seeing Colin Gilbert compete at the AQ this past December (and win second place) cemented the idea in my head. Features are wonderful- you have a relaxed poet, hand picked, performing whatever it is they want to be performing- but there is something really vital about seeing an entire slam scene reacting to a really good poet from out of town, seeing an audience react to a poet who may represent something they’re unfamiliar with, or in a new way. How do we get more of this? Make out of town poets welcome, offer them our couches, a meal, a ride to the slam. Folks from out of town want to know what we’re about, too.
Category 2: Things I think are good, that’d I’d like to commend the AQ for changing over the past year.
1. Lots of new poets. Actually, let’s commend the poets for getting onstage. And let’s commend last year’s new poets for becoming regulars.
2. More women. Last year I found the number of women who made it onto the AQ stage so low it was embarrassing. I could count the women who competed with any regularity at the AQ on just one hand. This year, it’s becoming more even, though we as women performers need to keep working on our writing and performance, so that we’re making the third round more often. Right now, the AQ says that only 2 of the 10 poets competing in finals will be women. We have three months to change that. Keep up the hard work, and we’ll make it.
3. Representation of different poetic styles. What can I say, I like diversity in just about every aspect of spoken word-it challenges the judges, the audience, and the poets.
All in all, Soapboxing and the Artists’ Quarter are going good places, both in terms of quality and in terms of representation- we can only push each other to continue growing in the right direction.