National Poetry Slam, Bout 1, Artist Quarter

By Fish DeSmith

Hello again, spoken word fans. By now maybe you have combed through Ward’s and my massive pile of tweets from the Artist Quarter bouts last night. We each tweeted our initial thoughts on the poems as they were performed and the score we would have given them. You can find Ward’s morning-after rundown here.

First of all, the AQ was packed. We showed up early, knowing the hometown heroes playing on their home stage would be, for many, the bout to see. Of personal friends, I know a handful that were turned away, so I can only guess how many weren’t able to get in.

Bout 1 in the AQ was aforementioned reigning champs Soap Boxing, the freshman all-women Minneapolis team, Punch Out Poetry, Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Eclectic Truth, and New York City’s Urbana.

Let me start by saying that we struggle up here in the frozen north to find poets of color; we, in this sea of German Lutherans, don’t get many. It is a mission for each of our local Slam Masters to find and encourage women poets and poets of color, and it was so great to see such a diverse group of poets last night.

Round 1
I’m told by those who’ve been around the National Poetry Slams longer than I that the first round should be funny, and that bore out with predominately hilarious group pieces: a campaign for confident female sexuality from Punch Out, a great mock-stick up with demands for the fixing of a litany of social ills from Eclectic Truth, and a duo piece about Central Park’s crack squirrel problem from Urbana. Soap Boxing bucked the trend with the third poem of the first round, by fielding Kyle Myhre, aka Guante, who tore the band-aid off with a poem about the soul-disfigurement that happens to so many men who try to live up to society’s idea of perfect masculinity through the lens of painful, something-to-prove handshakes.

Round 2
Guante’s teammate, Sierra DeMulder opened Round 2 with her poem (abruptly abridged today on MPR’s Mid-Morning) about a mother’s struggle with the death of her daughter from cancer. It was a gearbox-tearing downshift that grabbed the audience by the guts and never let go. Punch Out followed up with Inky’s breath-stealing poem about the cycles of abuse in farm families, with Alice Shindelar providing a call and response as the battered mothers and daughters. Urbana’s piece was a very well choreographed duo poem about a man struck seven times by lightning, surviving “over seven trillion volts,” who yet couldn’t withstand the pain of unrequited love, using the framework of charge, voltage, current and resistance to chart the struggles of the human heart. Zero from Eclectic Truth closed the round with a fast, tight and hard-hitting elegy to a friend, lost once by growing apart, and lost twice by a bullet in the chest, with the memorable line “lifts spirits like a cemetery cyclone.”

Round 3
Urbana brought out their first and only solo piece from Omar Holman, who also was in every group piece, a fierce poem about his mother’s fight with spinal cancer, featuring one of my favorite images of the night: a WWF-style match up between the Grim Reaper and Isabelle Holman. Soap Boxing’s Shane Hawley followed with his post-human anthem Robot Parts, in which his broken human heart and torn-up human guts require robotic replacements, featuring the line “replace my tear ducts with laser ducts!” which I cheer every time. Eclectic Truth chose a duo piece about being a teaching poet, the struggles and the necessary routines, which took on a sacramental, salvific feel with the repetition of the line “Praise, praise.” Punch Out’s Syd Malicious closed down the round with a piece to her mother about growing up a woman who will not hide or apologize for being who she is, with images of the strength of trees and grass-stained knees.

Round 4
Jocelyn Young from Eclectic Truth kept on with the theme of how hard it is to be a woman with a serious poem about the destructiveness of the idealization of female bodies. Urbana brightened the mood with a duo piece, a poet’s retail survival guide, hilarious, irreverent and rowdy. Ruth Kohtz from Punch Out again changed pace with a explanation of a complicated fear: that if beauty (through a synecdoche of flower petals falling from the sky) were to become commonplace, it would be an irritant, reviled or worse, ignored. And Khary Jackson, aka Soap Boxing’s 6 is 9, brought down the house with the bout’s final poem, a piece about a woman dying of cancer who still needs to feel sexy, delivered with enough heat to keep death’s cold grip at bay.

In the end, Soap Boxing took the bout, with Eclectic Truth in second, Urbana in third, and Punch Out taking fourth.

A note to poets: If you’re reading this, and you have twitter feeds to tell me about, do so in the comments and I will put in links to you. Or hit me up on the twitter: @fishdesmith.

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About Cole

A thumb among fingers. A writer, a photographer, a lover of all things citrusy.
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