The Seattle Poetry Slam held its annual Grand Slam on Sunday night at Seattle’s Town Hall. The Grand Slam event is the final step in selecting the team of performers who will represent Seattle at the National Poetry Slam in St. Paul August 2-8.
Our cheeky slam correspondent Dane Kuttler was there blogging about the event from the scoring table. Enjoy Dane’s blow-by-blow account of the big night!
This is Dane Kuttler, blogging LIVE from the Seattle GRAND SLAM! Host Sarah Sapienza is looking resplendent onstage in a an incredibly hot strapless blue dress. She’s kicking off the night on a high note with lots of audience love. We’re taking a minute to appreciate the beautiful space that is Town Hall, and now…Steven Wilbur!
Steven Wilbur opens with “Things I Would Do for Love,” one of his current classics. He’s wearing the Gabrielle Boulliane bunny ears. We’re going to do her some serious memorial justice tonight, just you wait. He’s getting mad audience love on the funny lines. Here comes the turn, where the poem gets serious about heartbreak – let’s see if they stay with him. It’s totally silent in here. He’s got the audience at the tips of his ventricles. What a way to begin!
Sapienza is back onstage with lots of thank-yous to the various volunteers, venues, and other V-related things. But –a surprise! She’s going to read us a poem. She’s bringing “Oppenheimer,” a poem that was new when she left Seattle. I’m so glad she’s choosing that one to give us tonight – a wrenching extended metaphor connecting the history of the atom bomb with the story of a relationship. “I was born a slaughterhouse dance” she says. “You were a whiskey-drunk shelter.” Stunning.
Sarah seamlessly switches from performer back to host, making the audience laugh through the standard announcements about our web presence (facebook! facebook! facebook!)
And now we get to the memorial. Sarah begins reading an obituary for Gabrielle detailing her life and achievements. “No bio will ever do her justice,” Sarah says, “but Gabrielle was the heart of this family.” It’s time to let her speak. Daemond comes up to read a poem Gabrielle wrote just before she died. Sarah Zane, my new best friend and judge-hunter, is crying next to me. The audience is awash with bunny ears. “When you hear that I have died, know that I want laughter and dancing,” the poem says. By the time the poem picks up into funnier lines, the audience is all but on its feet. “Please. love something. anything. start with yourself. ”
Now, we’re playing the video that’s been on the internet for ages Gabrielle’s piece. “Take it from a girl who’s already half angel. Do. Not. Wait.” That pretty much sums it up. The audience is solid gold. I can’t hear myself think. The cheering wouldn’t be out of place at a rock concert. They’re getting to their feet – slowly, now faster. Can you see this, Gabrielle? Can you hear this? This is thunderous. And it’s all for you. For all of us.
Sarah keeps us moving by introducing our featured poet, Joaquin Zihuatanejo. He leaps to the stage page in hand – he’s featuring at our finals, and is going to do page work?! ROCK ON! I’ve been telling you all, all along – Seattle is where poets get brave and vulnerable, and we are LUCKY for it.
He opens with “I am a street poet,” a solid this-is-who-I-am piece that bites back at criticism of street poets. Crowd love. Moving through with “Arturo” a piece that holds its speaker accountable for the homophobia he’s held and expressed. Joaquin shows himself to be a solid, polished performer – I mean, what else do we expect from an IWPS champion, and the new champion of Jack’s Evergreen Invitational (as of last night!) “Hope 5 Miles” follows, a hilarious-beginning piece about a truck stop that takes a quick, thoughtful twist at the end. He brings out the paper for the next piece – “Final exam for my father.” It uses the structure of a high school test to talk about the speaker’s father. The pacing of the piece – marked by the numbering of the test questions – works flawlessly. The next piece, shows off Joaquin’s stage presence and ability to rock another language – ASL. He’s wrapping up with “for my beautiful Puerto Rican wife who hates poetry,” and “Bringing ‘back in the day’ Back to Today.” Charismatic as anything, this Joaquin. A real pleasure to watch and hear. He’s welcome back any time.
Time for a break! I gotta go rustle up my judges and make sure they’re in working order. See you at the slam!
Whew! Here we go! First up in the SEATTLE GRAND SLAM 2010 is our FIRST sacrificial poet (can I get a baaaaaaah for the sacrifice?): Matt Gano!
Matt brings us into the slam with a rockin’ fedora and his poem about Wells Fargo credit card department. It’s a good choice – a lighter piece that whets the audience’s appetite. With a couple of zingers that have the audience sucking air through their teeth, Matt’s score comes out to: 23.4
Next up, sacrifice #2: Sara Brickman whips out “Detroit,” one of my favorite pieces from her – and a good departure from Matt’s piece. Another solid sacrifice, showing the audience just how far and wide this night can go. Both poems about the recession and the economy, but with wildly different treatments. Nice work. Sara’s score: a 25 even.
And now we’re into the rounds! Up first: Karen Finneyfrock, who could be nervous about drawing the dreaded 1-spot, but she’s handling it like the pro she is. And there’s mad love for Karen in the audience – catcalls are flying! YES! She’s opening with “What Lot’s Wife Would’ve Said if she Wasn’t a Pillar of Salt,” my favorite Finneyfrock poem to date! “When we called them Sodomites then, all we meant by it was neighbor.” Damn. Such power. Karen’s score: 28.2
Next up: Roberto Ascalon brings up a piece of paper! Yes! I love it when poets do high-stakes slams off the page. It brings such legitimacy to the page in the slam world. Love it. The poem is “Intonation,” and it rocks my verbal socks. Roberto’s score: 27.6
Greg Bee graces us next, in a chartreuse shirt and a poem about healthcare. “Stephanie” is one of Greg’s new favorite pieces to perform, and I can’t blame him. It’s a letter to a woman with an Obama sign with a Hitler mustache. As always, Greg packs humor and political punch into a 3-mintue capsule of awesome. Greg’s score: 27.4
Next on the mic, Maya Hersh! Veteran of last year’s team, Maya opens with “Red Laces,” a piece about contemporary anti-Semitism. I love this piece, and I think it’s one of Maya’s strongest. Still gets my heart beating fast, even after dozens of readings. Love it. Maya’s score: 27.6
Jodie Knowles strides to the mic next, with her piece about people who support people through an illness – “They just want to know if they are coming to a funeral or a parade.” Once again, I admire the way Jodie embodies her poems. She doesn’t look choreographed; she looks emphatic. Fabulous work. Jodie’s score: 28.2
Next up: eLa Barton, multiyear veteran of the Seattle scene. She’s gonna open us up with one of her signature pieces about being gay in the military. I’m glad she’s bringing this classic to the stage. eLa’s score: 27 even.
Penultimate poet (I love alliteration) is the brilliant Tara Hardy. She opens with her piece “let us forgive the body” – a much needed anthem to forgiveness in what’s quickly becoming a stage full of injustice. Which is not to say injustice doesn’t belong here – just that there’s a lot of it tonight. Thank you, Tara. Beautiful work. Tara’s score: 28.8, high of the night so far!
Rocky Bernstein closes out the first round with “Flight Risk,” a piece about an encounter with a first grader trying to run away from elementary school. Rocky has exploded onto the Seattle adult slam scene in the last couple of months, and I’m excited to see what she’s going to bring to our finals stage! Rocky’s score: 27.5
Rocky leads the charge of the 2nd round with “Define Music,” the piece that made me fall in love with her work. I love it when poets write about music; I love it when poets write about Israel and Palestine. How could we go wrong with a piece that works with both? Rocky’s second round score: 28.7
Tara goes with her classic choice of a funny second round poem and goes with “Stages of Grief” – I didn’t take any notes because I got totally sucked into it. Awesome performance, Tara. Tara’s score: 28.3
eLa’s piece about her miscarriage rarely sees a stage. I’m so grateful that she’s chosen to put it up tonight. She’s leaving everything on the stage (that’s a good thing, non-slam-readers). Vulnerable and raw. A perfect strategic bounce off Tara’s comedy – there’s space for the audience to absorb it. eLa’s score: 27.9
Jodie comes back with an eerie piece of a narrative, a story that seeps tragedy in every detail. If I had to give it a title (since I don’t know its proper title), I’d call it “Death Doesn’t Prey on the Willing,” a line from the middle of the piece – a story of one woman’s suicide attempt. Jodie’s score: 27.2
Maya always waits until the audience is pin-drop quiet before she begins. It works for her; even her silence can be riveting. Maya once told me she almost says more with her body than her mouth. Her introductions prove it. Maya brings out “Asking for It,” gaining some big snaps from the audience towards the end for a score of 28.2
GREG: Greg doing his “Reclaiming Queer” poem. This poem needs to be heard! The audience is confirming it! We’re waiting on Slam Master Arrindel…while we tally scores: 28.2
Roberto earns my Big Respect award of the night by doing another poem off page about “My father’s Love is a Spam Sandwich.” Roberto’s score: 27.7
Karen closes out Round 2 with “Crystal Radio,” one of my favorite pieces that she never does. It’s a piece about history, the roots of which make current politics mingled with science. I wish she’d do this one more.
And we’ve reached the end of Round 2, and for those of you playing at home, you know now that the top 4, our new slam team is:
Tara Hardy, Rocky Bernstein, Maya Hersh and Karen Finneyfrock! OMG!
Round 3: The FINAL FOUR!!
This is where they battle out for the finals, the title. Last year it was a 3-way tie. What will it be this year?!!?
Maya begins the round with “The streetlights battle with the sunrise for your features,” a piece about a love affair that almost happened. She’s slowed her tempo, but the audience is still with her: 28.2 (Can I just say: this is the second year in a row I got to be the first one to tell Maya she’d made the team. It’s the best feeling in the world.)
Tara Hardy chooses “Adam’s Rib” as her closer, a piece of yellow and marrow and bees and moon and woman and delirious imagery. Tara always smiles as she comes off stage. Tara’s score: 29.3, new high score of the night!
Next up: Karen Finneyfrock gives “Tarot” as her victory lap, like the last story at a campfire – something to leave us giggling in wonder. Well done, Karen. Well done. Karen’s score: 28.5
And to close us out, Rocky Bernstein comes to show us where it’s at with the one about being naked in the mountains and letting go. But she kicks it off with something that endears me to her solidly – she makes the audience snap and sing! A little mountain ditty, not unlike happy birds. It’s got me totally engaged, brought me right into the tone. Screw the massive time penalty you’ve incurred with this bit of audience engagement. Go, Rocky, go. See you at Nationals. Rocky’s score, after time : 28.4
Wow. What a ride y’all. See you at nationals with this fearsome foursome ALL-WOMEN’S team!
Finneyfrock Slam News Correspondence