National Poetry Slam 2010 day 3 wrap-up, day 4 recommendations


The third day of prelims in the 2010 National Poetry Slam was even more bustling with energy than the previous two nights. City Pages camped out at Wild Tymes for the first bout between Denver, CO; Irving, TX; Manchester, NH; and Orlando, FL. The crowd was sparse towards the beginning--so much so that the slam host commanded the teams to step outside and recruit judges. But once fully stocked with people willing to put numeric rankings on art, things got underway.

Denver's first poet kicked things off with a bang, telling the story of the rape of a prostitute and the dignity she carried throughout the horrific experience. Starting with a screed on the judgment society passes on prostitutes, and ending with the central character holding a gun to the head of her attacker, the arc paralleled the poet's intensity and the words spiraled upwards.

The Denver team kept things rolling through to the next round when poet Rob got a huge crowd response for his poem about a returning veteran's struggle with post traumatic stress disorder. Deftly constructed scenes, full of rich detail, melted into one another. The poem walked that difficult line between telling a very specific story with its own emotional resonance, and having that story symbolize a greater social problem.

Massachusetts ended the slam with the best poem in the bunch, performed by Stumpo, a short, nervous-looking guy who turned his energy up to 11 with a rap-sprinkled, ADD tour of subjects, brought together through the metaphor of rapid-fire channel surfing. It was abstract, scattered, but connected cleanly into a coherent whole.

There were other great poems as well: One from Texas was told from the persona of a slave, capturing the character's determination and outrage beautifully; another from Orlando was told from the perspective of John Lenon's murderer that featured a stunning turn at the end.

When everything was said and done, Orlando took fourth, Massachusetts took third, Texas took second, and Denver took first.

For the second-round bout, City Pages headed across the way to Artists' Quarter, where Minneapolis's SlamMN! went up against Long Branch, NJ; Fayetteville, AR; and Portland, OR.

The first team up was New Jersey, setting a high bar with a point/counterpoint between two male poets on what fatherhood meant to them, framed in the question of what to name their daughters. It was alternately hilarious, gentle, and melancholy, thoroughly well written and performed.

But the great opener only encouraged the competition to higher heights, as Portland poet Davey surprised us with a laid-back style and a more abstract poem than you usually see in slam, about wanderlust and trains and the wonder of existing in a giant, unfathomable universe. His tone was conversational--not something you usually see in slam, which often tends towards throaty yells, or repetitive beat structures even in non-rhyming poems.

Minnesota poet Miles stole the hearts of the whole crowd with his piece about a transgender relationship and the difficulty of accepting a whole person with open arms. Summarized, it sounds like a trite piece, and if it were not perfectly performed and written, it could have been. But, even while working through recurring problems with a buzzing microphone, he battled with aplomb, and it was utterly devastating in its emotional power.

The best piece of the night, and one of the top two pieces we've seen yet this slam, went to Portland's Anis, a fellow with a bushy beard, a prominent Jew-fro, and large glasses. He told a rolling, shattered story of a rockabilly kid, lost in his youth, who finds direction in the form of a pretty girl. Delivered in a style that combined laid-back with razor-sharp focus, he brought the audience as one through the highs and lows with beautiful language and carefully-constructed movement.

Other great poems included a group piece from Arkansas about the difficulties of hitting on someone while being hopelessly awkward. One poet played the main character; the other, the voice of his inner self-hatred. Nicole from New Jersey played the part in her piece of a woman with body dysmorphic disorder, or more specifically, the voice of the disorder, telling the woman, tasked by her boyfriend to acquire a stripper outfit and strip for him, that she was ugly and didn't deserve his love or lust. It was biting and harsh, with a great new angle on a common theme.

At Artists' Quarter, Arkansas took fourth, Minnesota and Portland tied for second, and New Jersey took first.

As of this time, bouts for tomorrow's semifinals, in which the top 20 teams will be narrowed down to only four, haven't been announced, so we don't have any solid recommendations--except to be there.

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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