Many of the city's top spoken word performers will compete for one of five spots on the Madison National Poetry Slam team on Friday at the Inn on the Park. This five-person team will go on to represent Madison and compete with dozens of other teams that will converge in town for the 2008 National Poetry Slam in August.
Dasha Kelly believes Wisconsin has a unique opportunity to help shape the spoken word landscape for the future. "We are lucky to be hosting it at a time when this particular art form is really about to make a mainstream turn," says the artistic director for the national slam. "We already have seen success of it on HBO and Broadway, even in the beginning successes of musicians and rock bands and hip hop artists using spoken word artists in their creations. We are at a spot where people are really starting to realize that they have something to say that can be expressed in this format."
Prospective members of the hometown team, which ended up in the middle of the pack at the 2007 National Poetry Slam in Austin, are hoping to make a statement this year. Each hopeful will perform two pieces at the city finals on Friday before a panel of five judges, who will be chosen at random from the audience at the show. All performers have been competing in similarly structured slams since last fall, and this show is their chance to shine.
Kyle "El Guante" Myhre will be the featured artist at the city finals on Friday. A UW-Madison graduate and well-known local hip-hop musician who moved to the Twin Cities last fall, Myhre was the 2006 Madison Grand Slam Champion and competed with the team in Austin last summer (and reported on the finals on The Daily Page). Last month he won the 2008 Minneapolis Grand Slam and became that city's champion going into the national finals.
"I'm very excited to come back," says Myhre in a release issued by the Madison slam organizers. "Even though I'll be representing a rival team at Nationals this year, I'm sure Madison will be putting together a formidable group. This will be a good scouting opportunity."
Organizers for the national slam are also excited about the event, and for Madison's chance to shine as a unique and prosperous city for spoken word artists. Kelly notes that this year's event includes a full-fledged festival along with the regular competition.
"Wisconsin is the first host to add a festival component," she says. "There have been workshops here and there before, but we have really stepped it up to where we are creating it deliberately for people to come and work on their craft, to see what kinds of professional opportunities exist, or just to learn a little more about themselves as creative people and artists."
In addition to a myriad of performances and showcases, the 2008 National Poetry Slam will feature a number of panel discussion and professional workshops. "We would really like to see people take advantage of the learning opportunities at the festival," says Kelly, "and obviously the networking potential in terms of sharing their own work with some of the most foremost people in this industry."
To boost interest and participation, the slam organizers have organized a "Power Words" raffle that runs through the end of June. Contestants are encouraged to submit one of their favorite words to become eligible to win a free all-access pass to the national slam.
The city finals is open to all ages and kick off at 7 p.m., on May 16 at the Inn on the Park. Admission is $10. The five finalists selected on Friday will the perform in a free showcase at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 17 at Genna's Lounge.
"Just to be on the cusp of some really exciting things is just a wonderful opportunity," declares Kelly about the 2008 NPS in Madison, set to run from August 3-9 throughout the downtown. "Not only is [the National Poetry Slam] something that has a 22 year tradition of success, but we are also going to be able to influence what that looks like 22 years from now."