by Syd Malicious, of the Punch Out Poetry slam team
Hey Y’all. Syd Malicious here. I’m temporarily taking over coverage of NPS2010. My assignment (and by assignment I mean, the bout I happened to be at when Cole asked me to do this) was last night’s Semi-final bout at the Fitzgerald Theatre featuring (listed in order of bout draw): St Paul Soapboxing, Austin, Slam Nuba, Denver Mercury, and Providence. Semi bouts, for those among you who can’t count or just want to verify that I didn’t make a typo, feature five teams rather than four. So the rotation goes ABCDE, BCDEA, CDEAB, DEABC.
Before the slam even got started, however, there was some other business to take care of. The members of the Chicago Mental Graffiti team put together a showcase for us. First up: John Paul Davis (who, as a side note has been very cordial all week). He gave us a rhyming poem about a man serving time, a “leaky man of sorrows”. Next up: Emily Rose. Her piece “For My Nephews Jack and Austin–So They Know Where They Get It From” was funny in a hyperactive-child kind of way. My coach has been drilling me all week about this invisible box around you when you gesture, saying that however big you make the box, you have to reach all the corners of it. Well, Emily Rose, my dear, I have never before seen anyone get to one of the top corners with her foot. Amazing. Her performance was large and playful and fascinating. Last up from Mental Graffiti: Billy Tuggle and Marty McConnell read a beautiful duet dedicated to Gabrielle Boullaine and Shannon Leigh. Billy read the parts about Shannon and Marty did the same for Gabrielle. It was interesting in the most sincere and least euphemistic way to listen to the care and craft of that piece knowing as much as I do about both women but not knowing either of them personally. I guess that’s the curse of the rookie. “What no one tells you about the grief is that it has no edges.” Amen.
And then the slam. (The transition was much less rude and abrupt in real life that it sounds when I write it like that, but c’mon. It’s not like I’m a poet or anything.) So here we go.
Observation on the Emcee Spiel: “Influence the judges” is way less catchy than “sway the judges.” Just a thought.
Our brave sacrifice was Andi Kauth. It was a gorgeous piece about image and identity, exploring eating disorders and gender identity using a musical motif and a chorus line of “my body has never made sense.” It felt a bit unfocused because of the two underlying issues, but that was some serious pretty in a poem. 24.5 from the judges.
6 is 9 took the suicide for St Paul with his persona poem from the perspective of a slave who is sold away from his wife. Possibly the most intense delivery I have ever seen out of him, which is saying something. AND he took a time penalty. I didn’t think that was possible. Khary, you are not allowed to give me shit ever again. Final score after a .5 deduction 28.2.
Austin sent up Seth with a rhyming love poem for illegal immigrants from Mexico about the injustice and hypocrisy they have suffered at our hands. I was a little disappointed when it took a moderately predictable anthemic tone about 30 seconds from the end. Judges gave it a 25.6.
In keeping with the political tone of the round, Amy Everhart came up for Slam Nuba with a poem about sleeping with men to avoid a confrontation about her sexuality. “I’m wondering if rainbows are vampires.” 26.7 from the judges.
Denver Mercury followed with Ian D. His poem was about how the country betrays its soldiers. Throughout the poem he recited the military’s policy for awarding Purple Hearts. Wish the surrounding poem had been more personal. The judges seemed to be on my side, offering up a 26.4.
Providence sent up Phil K. The piece opened up with the line “I like this place”, delivered in such an simple and upbeat voice that it made the audience laugh and I though for a second they were going to switch up the theme of the round. In fact, the following poem about suburban expansion and white flight fit perfectly into the politics of the room, but the style was markedly different. I wrote down a couple lines a liked, including “city wakes up mid-surgery, suitcase chest ripped open”, but I can’t tell you about this piece in a way that will make you appreciate the writing of the poem or the strategy of playing it. Judges gave it a 27.
Finally some funny. Austin opened the round with a strange group piece about “the Economy.” Two group members talked to “the Economy”, played by a third person who spoke in child’s english. Lots of innuendos and jokes about “stimulation” and “economy-sized viagra.” 27.1 from the five people whose opinions matter.
Nuba followed with another group piece, about children who appear to be lost causes, using images of flowers and singing to explain that sometimes people really do succeed. Their synchronicity was off a bit at the start, but they held it together. Judges gave it a 26.9.
Claire Connolly was up next for Denver Mercury. Her piece about racial identity and confusion started with funny anecdotes about being the only white girl in her class, asking if March was white history month. Then it took a dark turn and it closed with a line about how insults looked “like a bat swinging. I told myself I deserved it.” Can’t say that I agree with the white guilt but the poem was beautiful. She took a .5 deduction and a final score of 26.6.
Providence brought up Jamila Woods. Her poem was beautifully crafted. At first it was a story about black boys living under ground that slowly became a political declaration about how slavery hasn’t ended yet. Unfortunately her shuffling on stage distracted me and her lack of punctuation and/or inflection made it real hard to pay attention to the poem. Judges disagreed. They gave it a 27.5.
Guante closed out the round. His poem about working as a janitor has acquired some new choreography since the last time I saw it, which was cool. Not the best performance I’ve seen out of him: felt rushed. Still, a more-than-solid piece. And a 28.1 from the judges.
Ayinde Russell won my heart earlier this year at WOWps and I’ve been really excited to actually see him spit. Nuba sent him up with a letter to his son in which he tries to figure out what color his son’s favorite color would have been if not for a miscarriage. When he was talking about God’s coloring box, I wanted a couple more concrete images. Most were too abstract to really picture. Got him a 27.7
Mercury followed with a team piece about John Lennon’s death. The most interesting part of the poem was the format and staging: one person played Lennon, standing center and speaking in first person; one played the sniper, facing and talking to Lennon, one was his wife, also facing and talking to him but in a much different tone; one was a narrative voice who stood off to the side and faced the audience talking in third person. And, get this–there was a mic off-stage and a voice-of-god thing going on. Took me a minute to figure out that the fifth voice wasn’t coming from one of the four people I could see. Unfortunately, that epiphany was the most interesting thing I gained from the piece. It was good storytelling but unremarkable otherwise. .5 off for time, leaving them with a 25.4.
Trevor Burns threw up a poem about relationships for Providence. It was written like an economics lesson in which relationships are liquidity traps because “doing what comes naturally is bad for you”. Hilarious. Here’s a snippet. “When I showed up to repossess myself she sobbed, ‘you know I’m gonna get a poem about this too.’ Yes, I know, but mine will include things like metaphor and the truth.” 27.4 from the panel.
Sierra DeMulder followed for St Paul. He persona poem about Mrs. Dahmer in the aftermath of her son’s killing spree is by far one of the strongest poems to come out of this city and she nailed it. “Would Mary be forsaken if Jesus had not grow up to be the man God had intended to father?” She walked off with a 28.
Austin sent up Lacey Roop to finish the round. She put up a piece about the dichotomy of scientific progress vs the lack of improvement we’ve made as people. “We’ve got microscopes smaller than hair follicles but we still have trouble with words like please and thank you.” There were a couple stumbles and a couple rhyming bits that threw me from the rhythm of the poem, but solid writing. 26.2 says the judges felt it too.
Rebecca Preston opened for Mercury with a gorgeous letter to God, reflecting on the nature of divinity and humanity. My overall reaction to the poem was that the quirky bits (“Do you still listen to my prayers? I’m not expecting answers but I want to know if grammar matters”) were more interesting than the lines that were clearly intended to punch (“How does it feel to be the first renowned rapist?”) There was also a very unnecessary use of “ribcage.” She took a .5 deduction and a final score of a 26.3.
Megan Thoma followed for Providence with one of the most original and awesome pieces I’ve heard here. She used a house flood to explain the deterioration of her marriage. Her husband offers to cut gills into their necks with a kitchen knife. “This is what our love has become.” A 26.9 from the judges made me more than a little upset.
Next: Shane Hawley for St Paul. He brought a story from the perspective of Wile E. Coyote about how unfair the world is. The poem was simultaneously hilarious and sad. His delivery was flawless, earning him the first 10 of the night, and a 29.4 for an overall score.
Austin put up a group piece with an incomprehensible first line. The poem was an anthem about how much dreams are worth and a criticism of how little we sell them for. About half of the choreography was beautiful. The other half was distracting. The piece left me lamenting our fixation on generic anthems. The judges didn’t share my feelings. They offered up a 27.3.
Nuba finished off the round and the slam with a group piece. I thought their pose at the beginning, a cage around Megan Rickman, was unnecessary. I’ve heard the piece before as an indie piece and at first I thought I liked it better solo. Then the team started beat boxing and dancing. Suddenly “remember how to move” became more than a generic anthem. They sold it. 28 from the judges.
St Paul 113.7