by Fish DeSmith
I went over to the AQ for Bout 2 last night, to see the Twin Cities’ rookie team, Punch Out Poetry’s second bout. It was Winston Salem, North Carolina’s Piedmont Slam; aforementioned Punch Out; Richmond, Virginia’s SlamRichmond; and San Francisco, California (Respect the Mic was listed in the program, but later replaced with San Francisco).
The Saint, San Francisco’s opener, grabbed the audience by their sympathy and their anger with a piece decrying able-bodied black men taking advantage of both welfare and the women around them. Piedmont’s Eurydice catalogued the inaction of blacks and poets, repeating “all we do is sit and talk a whole lotta shit.” The slantish rhymes threw me off, but was a tight piece with a strong message. Syd Malicious hit one out of the park for Punch Out, a densely crafted masterwork about deep, dark family secrets, religion, and a family suicide through a metaphor of being cannibalistic spiders tearing at and digesting one another. Richmond’s John Survivor Blake reduced me to two words: “Excruciating. Excoriating” with his poem about the death of his destitute, prostitute, addict mother. “I wrote this poem on her flat-line” and “her legs finally closed” has been twisting up my guts since.
Punch Out’s Inky read her persona poem off paper, except for the end, fiercely delivered, when she spit Scheherazade’s hate into our faces as she wrenched a garrote around the king’s throat, taking revenge for all the women who died before her. Queen D of San Francisco followed with a smart, beautiful and painful piece about AIDS and what went through her head the one time she didn’t use a condom. “Death is blinded by the glare of wanting to be wanted.” Gary Johnson from SlamRichmond used vulnerable delivery to discuss his struggle to cope with his girlfriend’s self-mutilation, needing to love and protect her from herself. Ishmael from Piedmont took us through a Rasta-eye view of black empowerment with some hiphop structure and a three-time refrain.
I wrote last night, “complicated premise” for Richmond’s Round 3 opener, Chance. Here it is: that girl who was bullied on Facebook until she committed suicide, Phoebe, was hit in the face by a can thrown from a car on the day she died. The poem is a letter from that can to Phoebe, on the tragedy of teenage suicide, with a strong central metaphor of feeling like shipping materials, with surprisingly apt temperance in the delivery. Ruth from Punch Out explained that her exes might call her crazy, but she just holds to a policy of honesty, with a litany of her idiosyncracies starting from her first kiss. Well-delivered, and she argued her case better than I make it sound, but I would have liked a little more poetry, a little less exposition. Piedmont sent Renaissance to tell us that he didn’t want to die so pissed off, with a list of the world’s ills, sometimes so fast I missed words, sadly, because the imagery was great. I think he could work on his hands, the gestures were a little repetitive; otherwise, great. San Francisco’s Terry Kaplan explored the unfairness of black activists throwing black homosexuals under the bus, so to speak, with the great lines, “Why should I sweat for you if you won’t admit I exist?” and “Queer is a chasm that runs so much deeper than pigment.”
Milly opened for Piedmont with her piece about her strong mother, her abusive father, religion and herself as a sacrifice, trying to save her mom. “You cannot tell her not to be a hero.” SlamRichmond’s Narrator realizes he’s been a bad father when he meets a stripper with the same name as his daughter, resolves to clean up his act as soon as he figures out how. San Fran’s Sam Sax chronicles his misspent youth and lost friends around a recurring image of brick walls, tightly packed and complicated. Punch Out fired back at SlamRichmond with Alice Shindelar’s poem about a woman, Annabelle, who owned her sexuality and set a world record for gang bangs, with the structure underwriting the oscillation of sex between sacred and profane.
In the end, San Francisco took the bout, with SlamRichmond second, Punch Out third, and Piedmont fourth.