The not-so-dying art: The National Poetry Slam converged on Denver and proved poetry is very much alive – The Denver Post
Poetry as an art form may predate literature as a way to evoke and portray emotion. It has evolved and changed for centuries, however, some may argue that this form of entertainment has lost its ability to hold its place in popular culture.
Try convincing Christopher Michael, president of Poetry Slam Inc. of this theory.
“If poetry is dead how come there is 113 poetry slams nationwide? And that’s just big regional slams. There are 400, 500 poets here just for this event and all the volunteers,” he said with an eye roll. “Poetry ain’t dead.”
Michael is the 2016 Individual Poetry World Slam Haiku Death Match Champion and has been courting a relationship with slam poetry since 1999. As a leader in curating the National Poetry Slam, he finds that competition and entertainment is what lures people into the poetry scene. The six-day festival winds up its inaugural year in Denver Saturday, with a roster of events people can attend.
As the moderator of the “Haiku Death Match” open mic on Thursday, Michael put on a show in the basement of the Denver Public Library and few seats were empty.
Haiku is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that consists of a three-line, five-seven-five syllabic structure and are typically themed around nature. At this death match, the 17-syllable structure was the only requirement. Walk-in poets provided their stage names on sticky notes to compete in the non-traditional haiku battle.
The audience had two tasks: silence and the vote.
In the poetry scene, it’s typical for the audience to snap instead of clapping to show approval, however, there was no snapping here. Michael allowed finger waving, that resembled jazz hands, and one or two-handed claps and in slam poetry style, audience members were selected to judge the poems by raising a flag to represent their choice each round. “Red” or “not red” (white) was the designation and poets had to score the best two out of three to advance to the next round.
“All that happiness and love, do that at the party tonight. This is battle,” said Michael who ushered in each round with a serious booming voice. “Enter haiku!”
Some poets kept the mood light and the audience struggled to keep quiet, laughs squeaking from lips pressed closed:
“When Willow Smith’s pet
Rabbit is choking she whips
Her hair back and forth,” said Nick Nappo from the Rock Slam team in New York.
Other poets stunned the audience into silence.
“Child stillborn each night
She dreams umbilical cord
Tug of war with God,” recited poet Jerri Hardesty from Alabama.
The audience stayed enthralled and engaged through the entire competition, visibly fighting urges to belt out cheers and claps in approval. Over an hour-and-a-half, eight groups of two poets battled until only two poets remain.
“Hipster Santa Claus
Delivered presents in June
Before it was cool,” said Glori B., an Austin based slam poet and three-time haiku death match champion.
She claimed another title and a red Japanese-style tea set.
This is the poetry of contemporary times.
For the hundreds of artist and thousands of spectators who have flocked to Denver for the confab, there is excitement and positive energy that reverberates around the downtown buildings hosting the events.
The people here are as all-inclusive as the wide array of items on the menu that is the event schedule. Open mics are named for ethnicities, nationalities, genders, sexes, religions and identities. Workshops range from learning how to turn art into a business and keeping your dignity and money, to learning how to DIY a book of poems, called a chapbook, or having a sober check-in with other recovering addicts.
“This is a necessary and amazing festival, said Kevan Davidson from Toronto, who attended the African-American open mike and competed with his team in preliminaries on Thursday. “It’s one of the few places where we get to voice our opinion, even though we are judged.”
Danielle Brooks, one of the host city co-chairs for the 2017 National Poetry Slam, said events like this are successful because of their content and inclusivity.
“It’s the human experience,” she said. “Life is not easy and that hasn’t changed over the centuries. Much like anything in society and our world, poetry is not dead. It gives people the chance to voice their specific lens.”
There was no shortage of opportunity for virtuoso and novice to see the world through the words of someone different from them by listening to them bare their soul on stage. There are never-ending chances to learn both literally and figuratively.
If you only attend one portion of the event, the finals at the Paramount Theater will be a real treat, Brooks said. The best of the best from all over the country will compete for the national title — and $2,000 and a trophy. Saturday the final four teams will take the stage along with four-time Denver Grand Slam Champion Andrea Gibson.
“I think there’s such a diverse mix during the day with a ton of great poetry,” Brooks said. “At night, you get to watch tops teams really fight for their lives with their best work.”