Our first bout at the National Poetry Slam wasn't until 7 p.m. on Wednesday, so we started the day by checking out some of the afternoon side events from the main competition. This is the real fun anyway; the slam offers a number of identity-centered showcases: Latino/Indigenous, Asian-American, African-American, Jewish, Queer and a women's open mic, as well as a wide range of other reading opportunities, including a Nerd Slam, a grief and remembrance open mic, a head-to-head haiku slam and much more.
On top of these side readings, numerous workshops and panel discussions tackle issues like the relationship between slam and MFA/Ph.D programs, how to tour the country as a poet, and both organizing and teaching spoken-word, among other lessons.
Austin also has a lot of bars... so that's good.
Our bout was at Ego's, a small, low-ceiling club that reminds me a bit of Café Montmartre if you replaced all the wine with beer. We were up against Phoenix, Farmington, Decatur and the perennially tough Nuyorican Poet's Café team from New York City. We drew a one, which meant that we had to read first -- which strategically, meant that I had to read first -- and as anyone in the slam scene knows, sucks.
The competition's judges are human, often new to slam, simply random people pulled from the audience. Due to this, scores naturally start low and get higher as the night goes on and energy levels in the room rise. It's very difficult to do well when you have to go first, but we were all pleased with my performance and my score. I did "A Butterfly Flaps Her Wings," a tongue-in-cheek poem about using a broken relationship as the catalyst for becoming a superhero.
Ryan performed "Gone Fishin'," a beautifully-written, emotional piece about the value of living a life decently -- not necessarily being martyred for the revolution or spearheading national reforms, but simply loving your family and making a difference in whatever way you are able. He also scored very well, particularly for a more quiet, thoughtful piece. At the national slam, volume and intensity can be just as important as good writing. Doing more quiet pieces is risky, but Ryan's was written so well that it still managed to hit people.
We closed the bout with "The Call," a team piece performed by myself and Eric Mata that satirizes stereotypical "loverman poems" while commenting on why poets do what they do in the first place. Here is our performance of the piece at our kick-off at the Escape last week.
In Austin, this got a huge audience response and a very high score, but wasn't enough to push us out of third place.
Did we deserve to rank higher? I definitely think so -- but that's how slam goes. All in all, I think we absolutely murdered every piece we performed tonight, and some stuff that I didn't really feel happened to get higher scores. But as always, the points are not the point; it is eating lots of fried food (I love Texas), selling merchandise, and listening to some great poetry.
I'd be lying if I said we weren't a bit disappointed, but it was still a great time. On Thursday we face Minneapolis, Detroit, Dallas and Amarillo. Maybe fortune will smile upon us, or maybe my next report will expand on what I see as some of slam's more frustrating elements. We'll see!