Four finalist spots were up for grabs at the National Poetry Slam semifinals on Friday at the Overture Center, where 20 contenders battled with words after a week's worth of bouts and last-minute practicing throughout downtown Madison. One highlight bout pitted defending the 2007 champion team from Charlotte against those from Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland, and St. Paul, which brought the talents of recent expat Kyle "El Guante" Myhre back to a local stage.
Competing as Soap Boxing, St. Paul put up a valiant fight with their wits and words, but ultimately came in fourth on Friday with a combined score of 112.8, behind the winning Charlotte team as well as the Chicago and Baltimore squads but ahead of Oakland.
The Minnesotans commented on individuality within society's confines. One competitor in the first round spoke about Legos and their unique possibilities, each color being equally valued, and the creativity that can be discovered by throwing out the directions for pre-planned structures. El Guante's piece, meanwhile, scoffed at small talk and the question of what one does for a living.
One particular crowd-please was performed by a competitor from third-place Slamicide of Baltimore, which scored barely ahead of St. Paul with 113.6 points. This poet focused on how sick he was of beautiful -- but unintelligent -- women. "While beauty is only a light switch away," he slammed, "you can't turn off stupid." A cerebral "badonkadonk," he continued, was much more attractive than a woman with the skeletal structure to match up with the Golden Ratio. "Who we really should be lauding," he said, "are the woman who actually know what the Golden Ratio is."
Another poem that won over the audience was a piece on water pollution from Mental Graffiti of Chicago, which finished second with 114.8 points. "Civilization cannot be sustained on tears alone," lamented the performer.
First-place SlamCharlotte, which inched ahead of the rest of the field with 115.5 points, elicited cheers and stomping from the enthusiastic crowd with its bawdy group pieces.
These pieces rejected the idea of how women are supposed to speak and act -- "And if you don't like it, you can suck my dick!" two female competitors jeered with hand gestures -- while also lauding beautiful women. "Have you ever met a girl who was so beautiful," asked two young men in the piece, "you wanted to kneel down and kiss her father's balls?"
Other performances were particularly moving and political, such as on from an Oakland poet about Barack Obama that evoked concerns many African Americans have with the current election.
"I'mma need you to remember that Obama is half white," she declared. "He is not going to take the face off the front of the quarter and replace it with a fried chicken." The poet continued, voicing a common fear. "Obama cannot stand for change because people fear change and his days may be numbered," she proclaimed, referencing the spate of assassinated leaders from an earlier generation, including Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. "This country has a history of taking black men with potential and ending their lives," she concluded. "So I'mma need you to remember that Obama…is half white."
Ultimately, Charlotte's strong showing in both the funny and serious realms of slam --one piece described a girl being beaten to death by her boyfriend and one called for "all our boys" to be brought home from Iraq -- ended with its high combined score.
Three other finalists were crowned at Overture on Friday. Austin Poetry Slam won its bout, as did Boston Cantab and louderARTS from New York City. All four will compete in the National Poetry Slam 2008 finals, which will at 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 9 at the Overture Center. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased at the venue.