by Cole Sarar, photos and video by Cole Sarar
With Saint Paul gearing up to host the 2010 National Poetry Slam this summer, poetry at the Artist’s Quarter has been running hot, loud, and hard. Just the way we like it.
The Slam was hosted by the bundled up Sam Cook, whose enthusiasm for the poetry we were hearing and seeing was sometimes unrestrainable and infectious. Though we look for a lack of bias in our hosts, and Sam tried valiantly, we are charmed by a host so affected by the performances of the poets- knowing they are completely engaged and invested in all of the works they are seeing.
Homeless Ryan K was the sacrificial poet, first poking fun at his not making the draw list, then proceeding to his familiar poem about drinking and being jaded with enormous poise and polish.
Em, a freshman to the proverbial scene proved she is working and growing leagues in her performance and writing in the first competitive slot of the evening. Her poem was the familiar theme of a brokenheart, but with delicate internal rhymes, testing the waters and finding her own voice.
Shane Hawley began courting the audience with his atomic bomb of a poem, telling the audience just how he wanted to love them. A piece we’ve heard many times from Shane, the piece is a pop culture freight train.
Shane was followed by Douglas Bass, whose troubled race poem just failed to hook the audience with its rhymes.
Rising star Michael Lee brought the audience with him to a moment at a bus stop, where an brief imagined encounter becomes cataclysmic and world-shaking. Michael reminded us how much language informs the body, and brought that physicality into his poetry.
New poet to the Soapboxing slam Nilsea wove the image of the “bone queen”, a discussion of death and rebirth in the form of a dark persona poem. The poem contained delicious imagery such as calling a body “jungle gym of the maggots”.
Chadword followed with a poem about being nervous about slam, with a digression about Brett Favre. Like all of his work, this piece was autobiographical.
Up from Mankato, we were introduced to “the Derbs”, who managed in his first AQ slam to also rack up his first time penalty there, in a sassy, sarcastic theatrical piece about being a child of the 1990′s.
Neil Hilborn, another freshman to the scene who is making leaps and bounds, brought us Roadkillers, a delicious piece that begins off with the tone of an anti-war bicyclist poem, and takes a hilarious twist into zombie roadkill threats.
The tone took an abrupt turn when Jason Raymon struck up an erotic tone with his piece “Aftermath”, a quiet poem read with a soft a.m. radio voice that would undoubtedly fare better at an erotic slam.
Dylan brought back a familiar poem from last season, garnering a communal groan of happiness from the audience at the suggestion of the “sound of a redwood slamming shut”. He has found a comfortability in the poem that emanates in his performance.
Dave Beck, a seasoned stand-up performer, tested the waters of a slam, which begs the question- “what is the difference between slam and stand-up in the spoken word community?” An audience used to the coherence and flow of a slam poem probably did not respond the way Dave is used to for the jumping bounce of stand-up.
Xena, previously encountered here as Melissa, played with many themes in her piece, which explored baked goods, a mother-daughter relationship, eating disorders, selflessness and giving oneself away, and contained the morsel “Inspiration/ Atlas with an apron”.
Alice then plied the audience with her piece about love, death, and a blooming tree. It is always amazing to see such a passionate piece come from such a placid girl.
Rob Weekend brought back a piece about losing his virginity in a polished, amazing performance that recollects little of where the poem began, and reminded me that seeing a poem again and again is not always boring- sometimes there is the joy of seeing a piece evolve and “mature”.
Jenn Sparks closed out the first round with a poem in the voice of a Queen Bee, a girl after my own scientific heart, I cannot wait to see how she works and refines this piece. Jenn then initiated the second round with another new piece (yay!) which came from a feeling Holden Caufield moment.
Rob then brought out a new piece which floored me and made me wish like hell that I’d caught it on video. A letter from a small town against the city, the poem stirred memories of Saint Paul’s Michael Mlekoday’s “Fireflies”, and balanced humor and mockery of a supposed small town ignorance against urban hubris.
Alice then brought out a new poem, dense and complicated, which I’ve taken great joy in listening to repeatedly, so I thought I might give you the opportunity to do so too.
Dylan also gave us another dense, rich poem, about distance and perspective. His timing was perfect, beautiful.
The Derbs then gave us another dramatic piece, gasping regularly in a piece that explores Superman’s departure.
Michael Lee gave us the intensity we are beginning to expect from him, with a poem about Black Friday and shopping for purses which is very much NOT what we expected. Using the same shouting intensity and quiet restraint for dramatic comedy, he makes the piece work for him.
Shane Hawley dropped another bomb on the audience with his piece about loving hugs- again, so familiar, but Shane works it.
The final round upon us, Rob explored the city some more, with the Psychology of an Alley Wall.
The audience rowdy and riled up, Shane played us like a keytar- a loud broken-hearted anthem which left the whole audience screaming, and solidifying his win of the slam.
Dylan’s lyric subtleties were amazing, but perhaps to quiet and poetic for the final battle that was the third round, but still earned him third place.
Michael Lee closed out the slam with a piece about overcoming addictions, taking the second place spot as his own.
Congratulations, everyone. Just because Shane rocked the hell out of that slam doesn’t mean that your beauty went unnoticed. Hope to see you all Monday night at the AQ!
Also, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved with the National Poetry Slam this summer.