The new Madison Slam Team has a message for the 80 plus teams planning on coming to town to compete in the 2008 National Poetry Slam this August: consider yourselves on notice, and beware a formidable showing from them.
Eleven local poets went toe to toe on Friday night at the Inn on the Park to compete for five spots on the Madison team for this year's National Poetry Slam. These competitors were: Akhi, Dominique N. Chestand, Andrew Embry, Evy Gildrie-Voyles, Sarah Hatchett, Josh Healey, Ryan Hurley, Eric Mata, Mad Poet, Danez J. Smith, and God Son. They were a diverse and talented group, speaking before an excited, diverse and attentive audience.
Dasha Kelly, who served as the final's host and co-slam master along with David Hart, told the crowd in no uncertain terms that they'd better make some noise when something excited them.
The format on Friday was similar to city finals in previous years. Each competitor got two shots on stage, and was allotted three minutes per poem. Five judges, who were selected randomly from the audience, gave scores for each performance that were influenced in part by the crowd's reaction. These scores ranged between zero and 10; the top and bottom scores were eliminated, and the remaining three totaled to give the poet's final score for each round.
Featured guest Kyle "El Guante" Myhre also delivered three pieces between both rounds, a performance that reminded everyone in attendance just what it takes to be a poetry slam champ. Myhre was the Madison Grand Slam champion in 2006 and stands as the 2008 Minneapolis Grand Slam champ as well. He will be competing with the St. Paul team at the nationals come August.
Following the first two rounds, each performer's two scores were combined and then ranked, with the top seven moving onto a third round in which each got one shot each to woo the crowd and the judges. Despite a great showing, God Son, Akhi, Mad Poet and Andrew Embry were eliminated from the running at this point.
That left seven seasoned Madison poets to compete in the final round, which winnowed away two more competitors to determine the final team.
The 2008 Madison Slam Team that will represent the hometown at the nationals this summer features crowd favorite Evy Gildrie-Voyles, the fast talking Danez J. Smith, and seasoned veterans Josh Healey, Ryan Hurley and Eric Mata, who all competed on the Madison team at the 2007 NPS in Austin.
Several of the team members returned to action on Saturday night for a special showcase at Genna's Lounge, where they performed for fun and practice, as there are only a few more months until the national slam gets underway.
Now that the Madison team is finalized, their focus is all about uniting for the end game.
"Now they've got three months to practice and strategize," explains Myhre. "You come together as a team and talk about your arsenal of poems, pick the best and then just focus on tweaking and rehearsing them over and over again, making them as tight as they can be."
Team members help each other through the revision process and can even format pieces for group performances. Slam master David Hart will be assisting the team during this process, helping to organize and coach its members leading up to the NPS.
The judges will be looking at all aspects of each poet's piece and performance when it comes to the nationals. Stage presence, crowd involvement, lyrical skill, tempo and memorization in delivery will all come into play for a poet's score.
All these facets of performance obviously came into play when the judges made their choices for the Madison team. All five selections brought them together, merging lyrical precision with an amazing ability to deliver a smooth and rhythmic performance. Josh Healey and Ryan Hurley impressed with their ability to take benign moments in time and use their diction, line breaks and rhythm to invite the audience to experience them.
Eric Mata, too, impressed with his ability to relate experiences to a broad audience with carefully crafted verse that brought the words off the page and into the room. Danez Smith soared with his delivery and fast tempo; his ability to keep a rapid stream of carefully chosen words straight through a three minute performance couldn't help but dazzle the crowd; his pieces ran the gamut from the funny "The Negroes are Coming" to a potently serious piece about the world's love affair with conflict diamonds. Evy Gildrie-Voyles got the crowd into it every time she stepped to the mic, engaging the with sarcasm, wit -- like "frumpy is the new sexy" -- all through signature brash delivery.
"There's good poetry and then there's high scoring poetry, and they definitely overlap," notes Myhre. "I think that a really good poem that is subtle can score well, but if you want to be safe you've got to be loud, fast and ideally well-written too, but unfortunately that often gets lost in the shuffle. I think Madison is lucky that the team is made up of five very good writers, not just people who perform well but people that can actually write. A lot of the teams just aren't that lucky."
Co-host David Hart estimated the crowd at the finals on Friday to be above 200 people at its peak. It was a good showing, and that's a good thing: like any other spoken word performance, there's something to be said for crowd participation and the energy that the performer and observers exchange.
"I'm just thrilled," he says. "I think we have a great team and we can't wait to have them here while we host the National Poetry Slam."