Taking a little break during my CA writing retreat, I took Wednesday night off to attend the Berzerkeley Poetry Slam held at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. It’s one of the longer running slams in the country, getting ready to celebrate its 10th Anniversary.
I had some drama getting to the venue. I accidentally took the Pittsburg Train from Oakland instead of the Richmond Train. From my home state of Maryland, that would be like going North to Pennsylvania when you meant to go south to Virgina. I added at least 30 min to my BART trip. Luckily, waiting to rescue me at the BART station was ’09 Berkeley Slam Team member Danny Scuderi.
Danny and I both signed up to slam that night, but with 30 poets wanting to compete and 12 slots, our numbers did not come up. However, thanks to the hospitality of Berkeley Slammaster Charles Ekabhumi and our awesome host Dre, Danny and I were both asked to sacrifice for the slam.
If you don’t eat and breathe poetry slam, then you might not know that a sacrificial poet is a test run poet for the slam. They warm up the audience and the judges but they aren’t actually in the competition.
The room was packed with poets! So many poets from current and past Bay Area teams were in the house that I could spend my whole blog name dropping. Among others, the crowd included: Hillary Thomas (who LIVES in the bay now), Jaylee Alde, Mona Webb, Lucky Sevan, Jason Bayani (on a break from getting his MFA), all members of the SF Slam Team and most members of the Berkeley Slam Team. Lastly, there was SEATTLE’S OWN Denise Jolly! I am happy to report that the bay area loves Denise almost as much as Seattle does.
The night was charged. I was the first sacrificial which meant that I would be the first poet of the night to read. I got pretty nervous about reading in a strange venue and going first and then I had some mike issues on stage. Overall, I wasn’t that happy with my performance of The Newer Colossus, but it was nice to get the chance to read.
The first round featured 12 poets. There were some outstanding pieces, but I have to give special attention to Jen Genius, whose poem “Monsters and the Women who Love Them,” starts this way:
Ted Bundy received love letters on death row, most of them sealed in lipstick. The front rows of his trials were packed with young women screaming for him like Elvis Presley’s hips swayed in his murdering fingers.
Another stand out for me is Stephen Meads, a clean writer whose use of humor is superb. I enjoy hearing him every time I get the chance.
After round one, we heard two features from an organization called CalSlam, Abe Becker and Hadas Goshen. Abe was on the Berkeley Slam Team this year at nationals and it was a true pleasure to hear more of his work. His performance style swings from awkward to intimate in a head spinning display. He had a love poem that broke some hearts (mine included.) His final piece was a duet with Jason Bayani that brought the house down! Hadas is a young poet who has only been writing a year, which is jaw dropping. She had some really nice lines last night and I enjoyed a poem she did about her grandmother in the first half.
Two members of the Berkeley Slam Team, Danny Scuderi and Lee Knight, Jr. warmed up the second half of the show with a duet about Oakland. I looked everywhere online for a video of this piece and couldn’t find one. Instead, check out the duet Berkeley did on finals stage (feat. Danny Scuderi and John Mark.)
Six poets advanced to round 2 including:
Mumbles (Baraka Noel)
Patrick (whose last name I did not get)
What? How did a sacrifical poet make Round 2!? Berkeley Slam includes an Audience Choice prize for best written poem in round one of their slam. So, although I was the sacrificial poet, audience vote brought me back for round 2 of the slam. In round 2, I got to read last (oddly making me the poet to open and close the night.) I did my poem “Rube Goldberg Machine” and did well enough to tie for 1st place with Matt Blesse! Check out one of Matt’s poems here. Had I read the rules, I would have known that Berkeley breaks ties with Sudden Death Haiku Battle. The haiku is pre-written (in Seattle we make poets improv Haiku.) Lucky for me, I had a few haiku in my pocket.
I went first with this haiku:
Crystal Meth Haiku
First, your teeth fall out
Then your life withdraws from you
like a train you missed
Matt Blesse went second with this haiku:
I can’t be hip hop
because I act too ASIAN?
please, talk to wu tang
Matt and I were then made to stand shoulder to shoulder on stage with our heads bowed while audience applause determined the winner. After a few minutes of love from the crowd, Matt took home a well-deserved 1st place prize.
The whole Bay Area slam scene was so welcoming to me that night! I love the poets down here and their big hearts.The whole scene is gearing up to host the Individual World Poetry Slam competition here in October. Here are a few teasers direct from Festival Director Charles Ekabhumi:
- Nazila Jamison is in charge of hospitality!
- Charles is a master of promotion, getting 150 to his regular shows. He’s been hard at work ensuring our audiences.
- Charles believes a good party is critical to a good iWPS