By Fish DeSmith
Witness to the crush of humans trying to get both out of and into the Artist Quarter, Ward and I decided not to try to make it to another venue and dug in for Bout 2 at the AQ. It was Killeen, Texas; Irving, Texas (which was called as Dallas, confusing me and perhaps those following the live-tweets, for which I apologize); and New York City’s Intangible and Nuyorican teams.
Forget what I said about funny first rounds: the teams for this bout all did. Christopher from Killeen dodged expectations of humor out of the gate with a serviceman’s account of just war, urging America in rhyme to admit its mistakes. Irving’s Steven delivered a well-mastered poem which struck me more as being heir to hip-hop self-assertion raps, and I found myself wishing it reached for more. Tracy from Intangible reined in the ruckus with a very tight piece about a man who raped her, who was running for local office, a hard poem delivered unrelentingly. Nuyorican’s Jamal tore up the last slot with a screed against hypocritical views on immigration, with a deft play on the Pledge of Allegiance, and many more tight turns of phrase, winning him a perfect score. I will never forget hearing the Slam Master call out the low score first, “10.0.”
Intangible’s Shawn delivered a poem dripping with lust and sex as a religion, alternatingly sardonic and needful. Killeen followed with a trio piece, wishing that the world were such that slam poems would be about more good things than bad, but it faltered a little at the end. Ken from Nuyorican blew me away his piece around central metaphor of your heart as a volume knob, using both a framework of the science of sound and sound itself, his delivery unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Irving brought all four of its poets up for, to use Ward’s term, a Southern Gothic piece about a flawed but strong grandmother, respect and love warring with embarrassment and shame.
Nuyorican opened the round with a duo, lamenting the lies of our sex lives that obscure real emotion and connection; despite tight delivery and a good dynamic between them, I wish they’d explored the kernel more. Intangible sent Megan with a literal change of pace, a slow and measured poem about a lost love and the eerie defilement of a dead bear. Irving’s Jason, looking to me like no one so much as Hank III, brought a dark and twisted piece about rape, porn, and gayness in Texas, with the poet as a hungry vulture and vivid, troubling imagery. Killeen closed it out with their sweet-voiced lady poet (whose name I never caught) speaking as a dead servicewoman, while her teammates mimed preparing her for burial. I think It would have been stronger as a solo piece; the movement was at times distracting, and the poem and the poet could have easily stood on their own.
Colin from Irving initially confounded me with his tremulous delivery, which cohered in the end to underscore the weakness he feels after being torn apart by a cruel-hearted lover. I loved that his tone and carriage made me grapple with more than just the overt content. Nuyorican Caroline announced her poem was not about bulimia and white people’s problems, but about human pain and emptiness, and eventually, triumph; I wished it were more craft-ful, but it was so strong and self-aware I can forgive it. Doc (a lady) from Killeen had a rowdy sex poem intertwined with the need to write poetry in ink, indelible, which I thought could use some fine tuning, but the audience loved. Frankie (also a lady) closed down the bout with a poem to her baby sister, explaining that her father had been a very different man, a hard and unloving man, when the poet was a child, and being tentatively hopeful that those wounds might heal.
Nuyorican won the day with a 5 point margin, followed by Intangible in second, Irving in third and Killeen in fourth.
And again, poets: Let me know your twitter IDs or links or whatever. Look at this thing, no hyperlinks at all. Hit me up here or on twitter: @fishdesmith.