Ward and I, your faithful blogger-tweeters, decided to divide and conquer last night. You can find Ward’s Day 2 wrap-up here. I covered the Lowry Lab for Bout 1: Berkeley, California; Long Branch, New Jersey’s Loser Slam; Detroit, Michigan’s Neo Minds/Byte This combo-Slam; and Oakland, California.
Loser Slam wasted no time on pleasantries and opened with a duo piece on growing up mixed-race, and the history and trials of mixed-race relationships in this country that got the crowd up on its feet. Oakland sent Joyce with a poem on the anatomy of female denigration, a metaphorical menagerie of a woman, challenging and unclichéd, structured around a repetition of “she was strangely made.” Berkeley’s Trash Can Poet turned a transgender rape into the bigger question of how to be a man with lady-like hands. Neo/Byte closed it out with Mike, who brought a bullet-fast poem to his absentee father upon their first meeting.
Lee Wright, Jr. opened the round for Berkeley with a heart-rending exploration of how to raise a daughter who lives on the other side of an ocean from you, with good childhood touch-points like prayer beads to guide our way. Loser Slam’s Zenya performed a piece around a dysfunctional serial relationship, with a powerful climactic metaphor of herself as a diner meal. While I thought it could use a little more fine-tuning, the crowd loved it, and it had a sucker punch of an ending. Neo/Byte’s Cassie Poe touched the mixed-race nerve again with a turn: being persecuted at school for being too white; I’d have liked to see her explore that inversion more, instead of going anthemic for the end. Also I think the judges’ palates weren’t cleansed enough from Loser’s opening piece and they punished her for it. Oakland switched it up with a duo piece about the “gangsta!”-ness of long-term relationships, which had great comedic timing while also managing to be humble and true.
Versus from Neo/Byte showed deft control with a poem that started slow, growing inexorable: fatherhood, soldierhood, PTSD, emptiness through the metaphor of a spent gun. It was intense and powerful. Berkeley fielded Jamal, who changed pace with a seriocomic screed against relationship communication taking place via texting, subtle rhymes lacing through the alternating humor and stridency. Oakland’s Aaron put our feet back in the fire with an account of his thirteen-year-old self intending to murder his sister’s rapist, with the knife-stroke of how he wanted to “beat my sister’s innocence out of him.” Broken English from Loser Slam see-sawed us back up with a hilarious and cutting break-up piece, his delivery and gestures both genius.
Melawnie from Oakland had a poetically strong exploration of the conflation of nurturing with womanhood, but her memorization failed her and it went to pieces at the pinnacle. Detroit’s T. Miller talked about the nature of poets and poetry, and her guilt about taking inspiration from her family’s misery, through the frame of the alcoholism she inherited from both her parents. Loser Slam’s Nicole performed a dissociative letter to her former self, exploring the life-wrenching pain of body dysmorphia and her husband’s not-so-silent judgment. I tweeted last night that I wanted more poetry, but today I think I was moving too fast to appreciate the literary strength of the device of being haunted by shades of yourself. I’m still chewing on it, a sure sign of quality. And Berkeley’s Lucky 7 shut it down with a cinematographically orchestrated illustration of the circumstances of her birth, with a hiphop feel to cadences and Destiny, Fate and Death making cameo appearances.
Loser Slam took first, Berkeley second, Neo Minds/Byte This third and Oakland took fourth.
Poets: You want me to link you? I want to link you, too. Let me know in the comments or @fishdesmith.