National Poetry Slam 2010 day one wrap-up, day two recommendations


It was a crazy night at the Artists' Quarter, one of the six venues running concurrent bouts for last night's portion of the National Poetry Slam 2010. An hour before doors opened folks were already cramming into the narrow corridor outside the venue, anxious to get good seats before the slam began.

The crowd was rowdy, as the diverse group warmed up and got into the swing of things. Minutes crawled by as the volunteers and event coordinators tried to get everything ready to go. Finally the first poet--a poet not affiliated with any of the teams, who serves as a calibration for the five audience judges--took the stage and performed a poem called "Advice to My Father from Harry Houdini," using images from the illusionist's life to comment on the way we live ours. It was a solid piece, and easily accomplished the sacrificial poet's other purpose: warming up the crowd.

The teams competing were Eclectic Truth from Baton Rouge, LA; Urbana from NYC, NY; Punch Out Poetry from Minneapolis; and last year's champs, Soap Boxing from St. Paul.

Punch Out opened with a group piece featuring all four members of the all-ladies team presenting a united front for the cause of female masturbation. With some great plays on words, a lot of energy, and many hilarious gestures, they soon had the audience in stitches, though their coordination and delivery was slightly off at times.

Highlights of the evening include a piece by Soap Boxing member Guante about masculinity and the art of the firm handshake, a group poem by Urbana about crack squirrels (a hilarious account of squirrels addicted to crack after sampling emptied vials), and another group piece by Punch Out about a farm girl's abuse at the hands of her hard-working father (top notch, and one of the best pieces all night).

After four rounds of one poem from each team, the final scores came in. Soap Boxing took first place, Eclectic Truth took second, Urbana took third, and Punch Out took fourth. Sad news for one local team, great news for another, and all the teams hit big fat home runs during the competition.

Rather than brave the crush to get into another venue, I decided to stay at AQ and cover the next bout, between Irving, TX, Killeen, TX, Intangible from NYC, and Nuyorican from NYC. It was a great bout to see some styles that diverged sharply from those of local teams. For instance, the first poem rhymed throughout, a style that would be instantly down-scored on the local slam scene.

Big ups go to the Nuyorican team and poet Jamal in particular. His rant on prejudice against illegal immigration and the hypocrisy of conservative racism drew a standing ovation and the first perfect score (10s from all five judges) that I've seen in my slam-going career.

Another highlight was a group piece by Irving about a grandmother who embodies matriarchal strength and courage even as the deep prejudices of her character are revealed. It was deep, dark, utterly stirring, and disturbing.

When the smoke cleared and the final scores for bout two came back, Nuyorican took first, Intangible took second, Irving took third, and Killeen took fourth, with strong showings from all teams.

Indeed, though the Artists' Quarter was plagued by massive score creep (a phenom when poems receive higher and higher scores as the slam goes on, regardless of quality), all the teams did an amazing job, and the energy and performance level at Nationals are many times what you might see at a typical slam.

Tomorrow night it all starts again. We recommend heading to Lowry Lab Theater at 7 p.m., where Berkeley, CA, Long Branch, NJ, Detroit, MI, and Oakland, CA go head to head. Then at 9 p.m. find your way to either Artists' Quarter to support Punch Out Poetry or Wild Tymes to cheer for Soap Boxing.

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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