× Expand Kenneth Burns Madison team member Evy Gildrie-Voyles reflects on the 1980s animated series <i>Voltron</i> in her performance on Thursday at the Brink Lounge. × Expand The Oakland Poetry Slam team triumphed at the Brink Lounge Thursday night in a qualifying bout of the City Slam, which placed second, followed by hometown favorites Madison Spoken Word Collective and Amarillo, Texas' But much of the material concerned sterner topics: racism, cancer, abortion. In one of the event's most harrowing interludes, Oakland's nerCity delivered a piece that began, "I've got heroin in my family," then explored the grim toll of drug abuse. "Mommy was too vain to shoot into her vein," he intoned, and then described how she instead injected drugs between her toes. Still, the performers seemed always mindful that the contest was being decided by the audience, so that even the starkest works were enlivened by crowd-pleasing wordplay. In a group work by the Amarillo team, Jose Raul Rodarte described in shattering detail the atrocities of the mass killing in Darfur, but still got a laugh when he proposed that MTV could educate American youths about the horrors with a show called Pimp My Genocide. The most effective performances tended, not coincidentally, to be the most focused. Others, like one by Amarillo's TVhead Jimmy, were rambling disquisitions that, while undeniably forceful and passionate, lacked a clear point. And since this was a competitive event, even good performers risked scoring lower than they might because of fouls -- perhaps the night's most stirring work, one by Oakland's D.Dra about sexual abuse, received a time penalty. Madison received a 111.1, enough to put them in third but behind the teams from Oakland and San Francisco, but eliminating them from making the semifinal round on Friday at the Overture Center. But when the bout's scoring results were announced, the Brink Lounge audience warmly rewarded each team with cheering and applause. I took this is as a sign that the spoken-word community is a healthy and supportive one. The National Poetry Slam may be a competitive event, but ultimately, it's about the poetry.