If you’re unfamiliar with the tournament-style competitions of the Seattle Poetry Slam, let me break it down for you here.
Open Slams= Anyone can sign up to slam, points are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place
Semi-Final Slam=The 8 poets with the most points compete, 1st and 2nd place are awarded spots in the Grand Slam
Wild Card Slam=Up to 16 poets compete in one night, 1st and 2nd place receive automatic spots in the Grand Slam
Grand Slam:8 poets who got spots in our 3 semi-finals or the Wild Card Slam compete, top 4 poets go to NPS
National Poetry Slam=The Team of 4 poets representing Seattle go against teams from all over the country
This week, SPS hosted our 2nd semi-final of the year. For an exciting wrap-up, guest blogger Dane Kuttler has once again written a blow-by-blow of the event, compete with scores and commentary. Enjoy!
So, last week, I realized I kind of like taking notes on the slam, and typing them up the next morning, post 2-am pancakes. I thought to myself, maybe Karen won’t mind if I do it again? Here goes!
Our show this week, was hosted by none other than my dear “square root,” partner-in-arms, Dain Michael Down. And what a treat! Dain’s got a real gift for hosting; his banter is easy, he takes little setbacks in stride, and, most importantly, he keeps the show moving at just the right pace. I loved watching Dain host. And, since I showed up on crutches this week, having him around to help me get on and off the stage was really great. I do love me some Dain Michael Down, and I hope he hosts again very soon (before Seattle loses him to the Endless Tour!)
Tonight’s double feature (again!) was a graceful duet between road warriors Eric Breland and Andi Kauth. I know Eric from the national scene; he’s graced a bunch of Nationals finals stages as an ASL interpreter. I think it’s amazing that the slam community does ASL interp for its biggest shows – and interpreting a poem takes as much artistry as the writing and performance of the poem itself.
Tonight’s feature was an ode to good, tight slam. Eric opened the set without preamble, just a moment to collect himself, and then: “I wanna be a Japanese contortionist!” The crowd went with it. He played the crowd well, giving exactly the right pauses between the laugh lines and the punch lines. Andi took the stage after two pieces, and opened with a mixed-media piece of song and poetry.
Andi followed up with a piece she wrote with the late Shannon Leigh. The audience totally went with it. When she said, “F*&! me like you’re Wal*Mart. I’m a small business. Take me over” she had to stop the poem for a good 15 seconds to let people finish cheering and laughing.
They followed with a group piece about domestic abuse, in which Andi sang verses from a Tracy Chapman song in between sections of Eric’s poem. As I listened, I asked myself: what is so good about this piece?
It’s hard for me to hear male poets talk/write about domestic violence sometimes, especially when it’s all about female victims. It’s similarly hard for me to hear men doing poems about the exploitation of women in pornography, or other kinds of sex work. Why is this? Because slam loves the underdog; slam loves the victim. Slam loves “the untold stories of how we live.” But hearing a woman’s story (real or fiction) coming from a man onstage can make me squirmy. Sometimes, the women in these poems don’t even seem real – just a pastiche of clichés and overplayed images about “the poor exploited stripper with no self-esteem.”
Eric’s piece worked because it went into the kind of detail that is missing from many of these poems, without losing the poetry in it. “After he turned my flesh the color of royalty…” he says, quoting the piece’s main character. But the piece wasn’t just about her; it also addressed Eric’s reactions, even the reactions of the audience. After the piece, Eric mentioned that he wrote the piece after volunteering at a domestic violence shelter for a summer.
Andi closed out the set with two power pieces – an “I believe” manifesto, delivered with punch and fire, and piece about reclaiming beauty after being raped. Her writing was fresh – I loved the line about “writing in pen so I’d stop trying to erase myself.” It paralleled her love of stars with her love of herself, her body, and how she’d lost both loves after being raped. How long it took to reclaim them. It was a risky note to end on – usually the audience likes a funny or big triumph piece for a finale – but Andi nailed it spot-on with punch, power and focus. An excellent feature, overall.
Open Mic Notes
Lisa Walls – a triumphant poem about accepting and inviting love. Key lines: “I’ll be the eggroll around your awkward” – the audience loved that one – and my favorite, “Everyone cheered the day you were born. In fact, they’re cheering still.” Love it.
Chase Evan – “Smoke,” a piece about suicide and love. Lovely line – “kiss me – fill me up with butterflies and smoke.” Nice work.
Rajni – “Cup ‘o Joe,” a Rajni classic on racism that shows his mastery of multiple voices in both performance and writing. Love that piece! Audience didn’t give it nearly the love it deserved.
Corvis – a piece that explored the history of the word “picnic” as “pick-a-n*****.” I loved the wordplay, but I’ve got to interject about the etymology – the word “picnic” goes way back to the French word “picnique,” which means the same thing, and was around way before the US auction block slave trade. Could it have been used in the way Corvis describes? Maybe. But his bone-chilling descriptions of an auction block scene are what made this piece really work.
Melissa Queen – Nice work this week, with images of wishes and paper cranes. I’m really enjoying Melissa’s work and eagerly look forward to next week.
Allison Durazzi- opened with a tribute to Gabrielle Boulaine, then followed with the story of a mother’s labor – a beautiful depiction of hope and struggle. Love to Allison, and everyone else grieving the loss of Gabrielle. I didn’t know her, but she’s given a lot to the people who’ve given me a lot in this community. I’m sad/celebrating her life with them.
Talaam Acey- our quickie spotlight feature en route to Tacoma, threw down a couple of pieces about religion and the state of national healthcare. Best of luck to you, Talaam! (NOTE FROM KAREN: I love it when slam superstars show up at our show unannounced! Talaam showed showed mastery in a two-poem spotlight.)
Slam Notes – it was a semi-final, yo. A pretty fired up one, at that. Here’s how it went down.
Kim von See- our sacrificial poet, went up with a sensuous poem about fruit. How could you go wrong with that? 18.8 gets the judges warmed up.
Jack McCarthy- takes the 1-spot with a piece about mating hogs. Classic Jack. Man’s a total storyteller. When he has his next feature, can we sit him down in a rocking chair and just let him go all night? I’d pay for that. 23.6.
Mark Anderson- follows with “Farmers are afraid of the ocean,” talking about big things we can’t control that sometimes move us, shake us, and push us forward. Actually, it was a fantastic musing on adolescence. Beautiful work from Mark, the young man from Spokane. 26.0
Dane Kuttler – Semi-finals are usually nights of old classics. So I went with a classic – the “importance of dialogue” Israel piece. It felt really good tonight, with a few edits and some polishing. 25.5
Barton Jackson – a piece about Poseidon that involved singing and (of course) lots of water imagery. Defiant, strong, different from what I usually see from Barton. I’d like to see more. 24.3
Karen Finneyfrock – opened with her classic, The Newer Colossus. That piece never gets old. Lady Liberty speaks of immigration – “how can we not have room for them? We still have room for golf courses.” Gets me every time. Her precision with gesture didn’t go unnoticed either. 27.5
Ela Barton- rocked out one of my favorite pieces from her. I call it “Sororitude,” and it’s about Ela’s work in a sorority house kitchen. A hit with the crowd, and a solid performance. 27.8
Steven Wilbur- pulled out “Things I Would Do for Love” Beet stew, giraffes, wigs and hummingbirds, oh my! I do love this poem. 26.9
Sara Brickman- closed out the first round with one of her classics about being invisibly queer. Delightful. Took a .5 time penalty for a 27.1
Round 2– no eliminations
Sara Brickman – the ever-funny “cosmo” piece about what women’s magazines, and what they can do to warp a young woman’s brain, flawlessly executed. Another time penalty, but still a solid score of 27.3
Steven Wilbur – Steven’s classic meditation on manhood. 25.9.
Ela Barton – wins the crowd again with her piece about being gay in the military. She’s on fire! 28.6
Karen Finneyfrock- tickles us all with “Rube-Goldberg Machine,” and memories of high school makeouts. 28.6
Barton Jackson- took the stage and delivered a revival sermon about the importance of having lots of sex. Fun! 27.2
Dane Kuttler – a piece for the kids I work with. A few edits. Not my greatest performance. 26.8
Mark Anderson – the piece I reviewed last week about exploited women. 27.7
Jack McCarthy – a piece about “rocksploitation” movies. Ask him what it means sometime. Awesome, picture-perfect imagery. 27.3
Round 3 – the top 3
Karen Finneyfrock rips it open with “What Lot’s Wife Would’ve Said if she wasn’t a Pillar of Salt.” Good lord. This piece makes me want to run into a corner and perform public acts of resistance. It lights something on fire in me. How can it not, with lines like “When we called them Sodomites then, all we meant by it was neighbor”? This is a fairly new piece of Karen’s, so it still hits me really hard every time. 28.2
Sara Brickman – She brings back the Detroit piece! “Henry Ford, we can do these things.” A chilling, junkyard treasure piece about “the state that fell off the wagon.” Thanks, Brickman! (another!) time penalty gives Sara a 27.1
Ela Barton- closes with a new piece about love and kitchens with a killer ending – “Mix our past / knead our present / and watch our future rise.” Ela left the stage with cheers ringing in her ears, and took the win with a 28.5.
That means Ela and Karen are in Grand Slam! And the rest of us – there’s more chances coming up. See you again soon!
Correspondent for Karen Finneyfrock Slam News