Soapboxing- What have you been missing?

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.

Soapboxing 2009 November Slam
Right-click to download a piece by Brittany

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.

Right-click to download a piece by Miles

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.

Right-click to download Colin’s “Things That Remind Me of You”
Colin’s Website

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.

Ezra has been letting his cinematographic leanings permeate his writing, and has not been suffering point-wise for it.

Former youth poet and “Best New Spoken Word Artist” Aimee Renaud graced the stage with her haunting, carefully constructed style for the first time this January.

Alice pushed the usual format for women into charming new territories for women on the AQ stage, unashamed and unbashful in her simple sexual delights.

Sam Cook is still frenetic and passionate.

Jenn Sparks is becoming more polished and deliberate in her performances, though I’d like to see more new work from her.

Sierra DeMulder branched out into the familar apocalyptic-sexual-comedy style.

And we’re seeing poets like Loca L slowly finding their poetic voice and style.
Soapboxing 2009 November Slam

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.


About Cole

A thumb among fingers. A writer, a photographer, a lover of all things citrusy.
This entry was posted in Artists' Quarter, Slam Poetry, Soapboxing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Soapboxing- What have you been missing?

  1. A-Bomb says:

    I am Atomic Bombay, One of the most brilliant minds in this day and age, I’ve been working in rhyme since the time when rhyme was implanted inside my mind. I have just a small comment to make Minneapolis, my home, my sleeping to wake. I open and close my breath here in my lifebed, to the death bed I love it like my girls big breasted under chest under chestplate, her heart is my MN I may miss with no messtakes. anywho, this is me doin what I doand needin a place to really do it true. Peace Love and Bliss is in my 2 to the 11 highgravity brews. Thand you for your time to let me rhyme and climb this mountain to the all seeing eye. bye see you later unless you a hater than I’ll see you soon and bring with me your doom.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Though this isn’t nearly as relevant as the above post… didn’t Brittany get second, not third?

  3. Totally right- I misread the soapboxing site. Thanks for catching that for me!

  4. The One and Only says:

    You forgot to mention the other out of town poet who came and slammed this season. He’s a National Poetry Slam Champion. Just saying.

  5. As much as I agree that that poet 1) did an amazing job, and 2) is worthy of mention- sadly, the poet in question did not fulfill the things that change the dynamic of the local scene- the local scene, for the most part, has slammed against this poet regularly until this autumn, and the poet didn’t bring any new work to the stage- all of the poems he performed were ones this scene has slammed against as well.

    This means no unkindnesses or disrespect to said out of town poet, only that we are still proud to call him local.

  6. Anon says:


  7. Sam Cook says:

    I was very touched to be included in your end of post, “how we’ve all grown”, photo-montage/shout-out. Especially as the token ‘didn’t change shit’ performer =P

    All the love!

  8. I want new work from you!

  9. Sam Cook says:

    You do know I’m reading a new poem in the picture you have posted on here right? Just thought I’d… y’know… point that out.

  10. Haha, you speak the truth, Sam Cook. My bad.
    I don’t actually suggest you weren’t doing new work in the post, to be fair. You should do a guest blog sometime soon, and get your two cents in. Why we let some JV poet be in charge of the blog, I don’t know. (wink)

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