The FLEX and Crowd Control dance troupes perform at Overture Hall alongside poet Sean Conlum of New Hampshire.
The night also offered an opportunity to mourn the loss of Shannon Leigh Lewis, an Austin poet who passed away in June at the age of 20. The annual "Spirit of the Slam" award was presented to her mother, Dr. Sheila Siobhan, an organizer with the Texas Youth Word Collective. She took the stage and spoke a heartfelt and tear-stained thank you to all of her daughter's friends and to the spoken word community at large. "I want to thank you all for helping this mother's heart heal," said Siobhan as people around their audience bowed their heads and cried. A tribute group poem performance for Lewis followed.
Slam emcee Sonya Renee subsequently opened the bout, explaining the rules and introducing the teams and five judges selected from the crowd.
As is typical of slam finals, this year's performances were serious in theme; rape, racial division, wrongful convictions and domestic abuse were just a few of the topics that the poets covered on Saturday. One noted exception, though, was Andy Buck of the Austin squad, who riled up the crowd with a piece titled "Tizexas" that riffed on life in the Lone Star State; a previous performance can be heard on the Austin Poetry Slam MySpace page. There was plenty more to perk up the year at the finals, though.
The standout moments at the finals included:
- An Austin group performance that started with a focus on the performers' up and down relationships with their girlfriends. It took an interesting political turn halfway through the piece, though, when the poets declared, "But America, I want you back" and launched into a tirade about how they want to love their country while acknowledging its faults. The piece was well-received by the audience, but scored comparatively low by the judges at a 26.8 out of 30.
- Dashay Moonbeam of Austin wowed the crowd with a sonorous intro and stage dancing during his piece about growing up.
- One Charlotte "group piece" actually featured only a lone woman on stage. As the poet known as BlkSwan opened her performance, it was immediately evident she was lip synching in perfect timing to the words provided by a man speaking from off-stage. It was an original and incredible tactic, and garnered the night's biggest standing ovation. As the crowd chanted, "ten, ten, ten" to voice their approval, the judges delivered, and the piece scored the highest possible rating of 30.
- A poet from louderARTS in New York performed a piece titled, "Charles Chatman's letter to his accuser," which addressed the case of a Texas man who was wrongfully convicted of rape in 1981 and was released in January after being exonerated by DNA evidence. "Rescued by science," she belted, "Won my freedom in the lottery of caged men." The performance received a big standing ovation received a 29.2 from the judges.
All four teams were very evenly matched throughout the night, with the final scores between the first and fourth place finishers separated by a mere 3.5 points. In the end, the National Poetry Slam title was claimed for a second consecutive year by SlamCharlotte, which won with a total of 113.7 points. The New York squad came in with a very close second score of 113.2, followed by Austin at 110.5 and Boston at 110.2. The audience seemed happy with the results as they were announced, and readied for a final party to close out the five night blowout of spoken word.
The National Poetry Slam will return to Madison for a second time in August 2009.