National Poetry Slam 2010: Day 2 wrap up, day 3 recommendations

Day two of the National Poetry Slam held another set of preliminary bouts. Across the downtown area groups of four teams battled it out for first place and a spot in Friday's semifinal round. For day two City Pages camped out at Wild Tymes for the evening. The first bout featured teams from Albuquerque, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; San Jose, CA; and Cleveland, OH. Overall, it was a weaker bout than the one we attended at the Artists' Quarter, but it also brought a larger diversity of voices and styles.

What made the slam weaker was their reliance on slam poetry topics that have been done to death: generalized angst about American politics, and general complaints about the state of race issues in America. These subjects frequently play well with the diverse and liberal slam crowd, and indeed they're important issues on which to create art. As one Cleveland poet said in his piece, (paraphrasing) "I'll stop writing poems about race when racism is dead."

But it's important when tackling a subject that's been done over and over, to have a sharp angle. Tell a story, hone a narrow focus to your rant, or just feature such amazing writing and precise delivery that it's impossible for your poem to get lost in the cacophony.

The team from Albuquerque exemplified this brilliantly. For a couple of their group poems, they tackled Chicano issues head-on. First, they performed a duet about growing up surrounded by Chicano gangs made up of former friends and classmates, and the conflicts that the gangs created within communities, families, and souls. It was tightly focused, very well written, and beautifully performed.

Their second group piece started off with: "Fuck you, Rush Limbaugh, and Rachel the same time." It moved into a rolling rant about the nature of food in America; very specifically the reliance on Mexican labor in restaurant kitchens. Again, this poem had a well-crafted thesis: Food is the heart of a nation, and when that food is prepared mostly by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, it's stupid to deny the importance of their presence in the American spirit.

Another standout from the first bout was a duet by the San Jose team, a quiet piece in which the male and female poets spoke from the personae of a couple who have lost their child to a miscarriage. It was quietly done, with small swells throughout and astonishing imagery. Midway through, a third performer took the stage playing the voice of the unborn child. It was utterly wrenching, and the poets delivered their words nearly perfectly.

At the end of the first Wild Tymes bout, Flagstaff took fourth, San Jose took third, Cleveland took second, and Albuquerque took first.

The second bout featured teams from Dallas, TX; Chino, CA; and Palatine, IL; as well as St. Paul's Soap Boxing.

This bout featured a much greater diversity in subject matter. The first piece was by a poet from California named Superb, who spoke on losing one's virginity: the awkward moments, the joy, and why nobody should ever refer to losing their virginity as "making love," because (paraphrasing again) "You don't even know what sex is yet, how can you know about love?" It tackled a subject that could be potentially be played only for laughs (and there were some great funny lines) with a deftness and care that showed masterful craft.

Other highlights included a poem by Soap Boxing member Sierra DeMulder about a school shooting that explored the mind and experiences of the shooter in the weeks leading up to the event. Her editorial choice to reserve judgment on either the murderer or his victims, and to just tell their stories, was an important one. It made this one of the best-written pieces I've ever heard in slam.

A duet poem from Dallas also stood out; it was a funny piece, playing on the tropes of an infomercial, about taking a stand for one's self in one's relationship. Or as they put it in their chorus line, "Wearing the big drawers in the relationship." It was cleverly written, and got away from a big slam poetry complaint: group pieces that could be more effectively delivered by a single poet. Instead, it made great use of the two poets voices, as they played off each others lines in rapid-fire succession.

When the smoke cleared on the second bout, Palatine took fourth, Chino took third, Dallas took second, and Soap Boxing took first for the second time in prelims, securing them a good place in the semifinal bouts.

Tonight, we recommend you head to Wild Tymes at 7 p.m. to catch Dallas Poetry Grind, Slam Free or Die (from Manchester, NH), Team Orlando, and Denver Mercury Slam. Denver is by all accounts an amazing team, whose alumni (and their accompanying quality and style) have scattered to slams all around the country. Later, at 9 p.m. check out Artists' Quarter, where Loser Slam (From Long Branch, NJ), Ozark Poetry Slam (from Fayetteville, AR), Portland Poetry Slam, and Minneapolis-based SlamMN! compete.

For a complete schedule and venue list, check out NPS2010. City Pages will also be posting every day of the slam with a review of the day's competition and our recommendations on the next bouts to catch.

If you can't make it down this evening and want up-to-the-minute reports on the local teams' progress, follow @wardrubrecht and @fishdesmith on twitter. We'll be doing his-and-hers tweets with commentary and critique on every poem we see performed.

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