Hello faithful readers. As many of you know, Seattle held its big poetry slam event of the year last night, The GRAND SLAM! This annual spoken word competition determined the team of poets who will represent Seattle at the National Poetry Slam in August, and crown Seattle’s 2009 Grand Slam Champion. Poets compete all year to get into the Grand Slam. Past Grand Slams have featured talents like: Buddy Wakefield (Individual World Poetry Slam Champ), Anis Mojgani (NPS and World Cup Champion) and Danny Sherrard (NPS and World Cup Champion), among countless other talents.
It was my honor to perform in this year’s Grand Slam along side so many writers I love and respect. Since I was performing, the job of commentator had to be outsourced. This guest blog was written by Dain Michael Down and Dane Kutler, two new Seattle slammers. Here is their blow-by-blow, delivered in sports commentator style. I hope you enjoy the wit and charm of two Ds. We are lucky to have them both in Seattle and I sincerely appreciate their reporting!
I’m sad to say, I was hog tied with no battery in my camera. So, this blog has no funny pics. But Andi snapped shots all night for the flickr page. (By the way, Andi’s photos only get better! Check these out!) Look for Grand Slam photos there soon!
Dane: Hi everyone! We’re so glad to be guest blogging Grand Slam for Karen. I just moved to Seattle from New Jersey/Massachusetts about a month ago, and I’m totally psyched to be here.
Dain: I too came here about 2 months ago and am so excited about how the Seattle scene has accepted us into their scene, and tonight is going to be a knock down drag out battle to the end.
Dane: What an amazing array of talent stands before us tonight, Dain. I’m completely in awe. Not only do we have the GRAND SLAM competitors (more about them in a minute), we have the world’s most prestigious feature, and a showcase to kick it all off!
Dain: Our illustrious Slam Master Daemond Arrindell has hand picked a very tight showcase, along with have facilitated one of the best slams in the Country, and Dane I’ve been privy to quite of a few slams as I’m sure you have, Daemond has a lot too be proud of no matter who makes this team.
Dane: Our hosts tonight are Roberto Ascalon and Jodie Knowles, both well-respected and fine-lookin’ members of our community. And now they’re announcing the kickoff… it’s Daemond Arrindell with a sweet piece for his wife. It’s a love poem that uses light, color and astronomy – gravity is just a storybook image and confident in your redwood spine stick out in this beautifully crafted piece. And the crowd is loving it. This is their man Daemond, and they rarely get to show him the love he so deserves for his astounding work.
Dain: Another line that I absolutely loved was “When you kiss me, our species never knows redundancy” and this poem is definitely not a redundant love poem. Next up is Sarah Sapienza. A poet who I have seen at the slam almost every week since I’ve been here. She’s a solid writer. With her pimp mode in full swing (she’s wearing a gold chain with a pimp medallion on the end) she attempts to rile the crowd just before going into a very deep and serious poem about how hard it is to teach children who have lead such tough lives in their short years.
Dane: Next up: Steven Wilbur.” I call this piece the “tree/man” piece – lovely image with wings of a carrier pigeon bigger than me. Steven has the most lovely stage presence – his physical choices are calm, grounded, and simultaneously majestic. I love the part where he rhythmically stomps his foot towards the end of the poem – keep it up, Steven!
Dain: Wow, tonight, Steven really found his stride in both his confidence on stage and his performance. Seeing him for the first time just 8 weeks ago, and watching the improvements and changes through that time, I am excited to see where Steven Goes. I really feel that through Daemond, Sarah and Steven the showcase showed the audience that this isn’t 2nd Period High School English. This is serious business to everyone involved. A great and impressive Showcase.
Dane: I can feel the earth quaking. People, it’s time for the feature. And we have none other than the greatest, the most stupendous, most highly decorated contemporary poet in the entire world. We have Patricia Smith. And she’s opening with the piece that begins every one of her readings – “Building Nicole’s Mama,” a fierce piece about Smith’s experiences teaching a sixth-grade class about poetry. She follows it up with a poem she volunteered to write for Day 7 of President Obama’s first 100 days in office. It’s got this sick little piece of teeth imagery – pushing for real estate in his mouth. Augh, I’m going nuts! She follows it up with her National Poetry Slam winner hit “Medusa,” in the title character’s voice. My hair – is it moving? Chills. Absolute chills. Follow it up with her Barbershop piece, in the voice of one of the barbers – my G-d this woman is a master of the persona – and finally, brings it all down with her ten-minute bone-breaking piece about Katrina, from her new National Book Award finalist collection Blood Dazzler. It’s a piece in the voices of a handful of folks who were left to drown in a nursing home just southeast of New Orleans. I’ve heard it maybe four or five times now, and every single time, I find it hard to breathe just listening to it. Go get your hands on a copy of Blood Dazzler. Now.
Dain: After a short break for the crowd we are ready to get started. But not before we “spill some blood!” First up is Buddy Wakefield. Buddy freaking Wakefield. Buddy has countless nationals team appearances along with several trips to several finals stages and many many wins. (2 time Individual World Poetry Slam Champion.) He also have tens of thousands of miles logged on the road as a touring poet. Buddy walks up too many cheers with big, big smiles. After smiling and acknowledging the crowd he launches into a newer poem that in the last few weeks I have heard several versions of. Its an upbeat poem and sliding veiled references to some of Buddy’s older works near the end he says. “Call 911, tell her I’m having a terrific day” which just sent the crowd into an half aww half cheer kind of Frenzy. Buddy’s final score, a 24.8.
Next up is my partner in collaboration Ms. Dane Kuttler. Now I am not so familiar with her work, and when she was asked to do the job as second sac, she asked me what she should do. She did not take my advice and I feel it was a good choice. Dane spoke to her sister, wishing her a happy birthday giving her advice. One of the stand out lines “Keep a map of the weakest points on every human body.” Beautiful. Danes final score. A 22.8.
Dane: Aw, shucks. I was not totally happy with that piece, but I’m glad I did it. I was just grateful for the opportunity to grace the stage at all! Anyway, moving into the slam, we kick off with Jack McCarthy. I’m so excited – what’s he gonna do? Funny? Poignant? What? – he’s – oh dear lord, he’s talking! He’s gonna get a time penalty! Somebody save Jack from his own madness! Oh wait, here’s the poem – a toast to Patricia Smith. Aww. That’s lovely – did you know that once upon a time, many years ago in Boston, Massachusetts, Jack and Patricia were on a team together? He worked his way to the Grand Slam just so he’d have a chance to greet her, one of his oldest poet friends. Gotta have respect for a guy who has such deep community roots. Jack’s score: 24.1
Dain: Up next, Maya Hersh. I haven’t had the chance to see Maya perform since I’d been in Seattle except for once as a Sac in one of the open slams.
Dane: Can I just say: I’ve known Maya for about three years now, and I remember when she moved from Massachusetts to Seattle. Her biggest goal was to make this team, and I’m literally quivering with excitement for her. I think she has a shot! Her score, a 26.8. Next up, crowd favorite Greg Bee, who smacks down one of his anthemic gay pieces. Greg is a total showman, melting the crowd and molding them into a giant puddle of outrage and love. He has a real gift for performance, and his poetry is solid. I can’t wait to see what else he pulls out tonight.
Dain: I heard that poem for the first time in the wild card slam back on Wednesday and it was absolutely amazing. Pulled the only perfect 30 of the nigh in the first round. Tonight it set the new score to beat with a 27.2
Next up is Ela Barton, someone whose work I’m not entirely familiar with, but the work I have experienced has been good. She starts out singing the Katie Perry song “I kissed a girl” I saw this poem once before and thought it was a great message about the trivialization of sexuality in pop culture. A strong piece. Ela’s score, 25.3
Dane: And here we’ve got Karen Finneyfrock, bedazzling veteran of the Seattle scene. I hope she’s going to open with – is she? – oh yes, it’s “The Newer Colossus,” her response to the famous Emma Lazarus inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty. G-d, I love this piece. Karen is a master of precision on stage – each movement is fluid and purposeful, her voice calm, pointed and controlled. She’s hot like a blue flame. Go Karen! 27.2
Dain: Next up is Tara Hardy, someone I had heard so much about about while back east and the first time I saw her perform her she lived up to every word of it. She is opening with- a piece about forgiveness. She seems to be cutting herself open right down the center and showing the audience exactly what she holds inside. A beautiful piece in a very raw way. And like Maya the audience is rewarding her with a very good score- what, another 27.2, that makes a three way tie for first as we come up on the last two poets of the first round.
Dane: Following Tara’s incredible performance is Matt Gano, a veteran of last year’s team. Matt’s putting up his “Moon” piece, which I’ve only ever seen as a team piece endeavor at last summer’s Youth Vs Adults slam. Oh, I like it much better when Matt does it on his own – that man knows how to push language to the edge. Bastard asteroid?! Who does that?! 26.5 for Matt.
Dain: Next up we have Sara Brickman. A great young voice of the Seattle poetry slam, she is putting up her piece about Detroit. She tells the audience the truth about our country with lines like “in the new depression, the whole country is as F-cked as Detroit” A great piece. 26.4 Dane I think we are going to take a short break for the audience to stretch a little and let Sarah get something breathing room before she comes back up first in the 2nd round.
Dane:…and we’re back, with Sara kicking off the second round with her “Cosmo” piece – women and body image. A fabulous subject for Brickman, who does each of her pieces as though it’s a persona (a poem in a voice that is neither the author’s nor an omniscient narrator) piece. This brings character, color and depth into works that could otherwise fall flat. Brickman’s construction of this piece is also flawless – she works from giggles to frowns in less than a beat, and pulls it off. A 27.2 (are we noticing a trend here?) for Sara Brickman.
Dain: Up next we have Matt Gano who is turning his flirtation with the moon to spot a little lower, the audience sitting in front of him. The poem is very good but seemed to be a little obscure for the audience. Still a score of 27.1 is still very good in this slam. Dane, I’m finding harder and harder to tell what the judges are liking. This is one of those rare moments in slam where the outcome is wholly unpredictable
Dane: Totally with you, Dain. We picked some damn good judges, didn’t we? Now we’re back to Tara Hardy – rips it up with a piece about working-class folks and drinking. Gut-burning. 27.7 FINALS!
Dain: Next up is Karen Finneyfrock, and yes, she is doing “Rube Goldberg Machine” I love this piece, have ever since she debuted it and the crowd is hers. A new high score for the night with a 28.1 FINALS!
Dane: Ela bounces back with a solid 28 for “Sorority girls.” This poem is responsible for my favorite word ever: sororitude. Excellent work, Ela! A fabulous performance.
Dain: Up next is Greg Bee with his taking back of the word Queer. I love this poem, and again Greg has the audience in the palms of his hands and they just don’t want to leave it. A 27.8 for Greg. FINALS!
Dane: Welcome back Maya of the Leather Minidress. We haven’t done much fashion commentary tonight, but I think we can agree that Maya is smokin’ in those boots. She lassoes us with “Introduction to Flying” – with its haunting refrain, Does it still count as flying if you only go down? Lord! A solid 27.4 for Maya, which, with Jack’s lowball in the first round, officially bumps her into the FINALS!
And there you have the 2009 team, officially: Maya Hersh, Tara Hardy, Greg Bee and Karen Finneyfrock ! Those of us in the crowd who are keeping score on the sidelines go wild!
Dain: Jack had the unfortunate circumstance of going first in the first round. He dedicates his next poem again too our feature poet and is delivering a piece on a topic that is all too familiar too each and every slam poet, upset victories. Jacks score, a respectable 26.7, but as my esteemed colleague has already said, the team was decided after Maya Hersh’s poem. Congratulations to those who will representing Seattle in West Palm Beach, FL. But, we still have to crown a champion! Roberto takes off his stylish hat and throws each of there names into it. This will be a randomly drawn clean slate round between Greg, Tara, Karne, and Maya. Who will be first?
Dane: Greg B! “Work in Progress” – I am one ugly barfight – 27.4
Dain: Maya Hersh! “I don’t do relationships” Another beautiful raw poem laid out on the stage. And the crowd has rewarded Maya for her honesty. 27.9
Dane: Tara Hardy! “Rocks Bigger Than Anus Syndrome!” – welcome to my miniature acquatic prison! another 27.9!!
Dain: Karen Finneyfrock. “On being a woman” Karen delivers this poem beautifully and you can tell she had the excitement of already having made the team inside of her. Her score a… 27.9. Really? A three way tie for first place at the Grand Slam. This is un heard of. What will they do to settle this, Haiku Death Match? A fourth round?
Dane:…HELL NO. In a spectacular show of sportsmanship (sportswomanship?), the fierce trio decide to hold the tie and share the prize. What a beautiful, beautiful night. Oh, Dain, how how fabulous was it all?
Dain: This is unbelievable Dane. Not only do we have a solid, fantastic team of poets representing our new home at nationals but we have three wonderful co-slam champions. What a great night. Well everyone. It’s been great sharing this night with you. From Neumo’s on Capitol Hill in Seattle Washington. She’s Dane Kuttler.
Dane: and he’s Dain Michael Down, saying see you next season when we’ll report back from GRAND SLAM SEATTLE!