Before coming down to Austin, people kept telling me: "You'll love it down there; yeah it's hot, but it's not humid like it is in Wisconsin."
Today it was at least 140 degrees with 115% humidity. It was hot outside, hot in the pool, hot in Book People (Texas' biggest independent bookstore), and particularly hot in our venue on Thursday night, the Hideout Theatre. Located in the back of a coffee shop, the Hideout is probably the smallest venue used at the National Poetry Slam this year. It's cramped -- but in a nice way -- that made our bout with Minneapolis, Dallas, Detroit and Amarillo feel very intimate and intense.
Eric Mata began with a solo piece, "God's Work," about our collective responsibility to protect our children. In a poem that a lesser poet would frame as "religious leaders are hypocritical child molesters," Eric manages to turn the lens not just on the guilty, but also on the larger community; a very thoughtful piece. His score was alright -- not as high as we had wanted but still pretty solid.
Josh Healey followed with his solo piece "Baggy Clothes," a personal, storytelling poem addressing standards of beauty. "I want a woman who shows skin, knowing she doesn't need to," Healey writes. "A woman who knows thin, sometimes makes you see-through." This piece got a great audience response and a high score.
We closed with a new team piece called "Working With Kids," a funny poem about how not everyone who works with kids is a saint, and why that's okay. This also received a thunderous response and a high score.
When all was said and done, we ended up getting second, losing only to an extremely polished Dallas team. That leaves the Madison team with a "3" and a "2" now, making a semifinals slot not mathematically impossible, but extremely unlikely. We're expecting to be spectators tomorrow, but are more than content with our performance. When the national slam comes to Madison in 2008, the home team will definitely have some notoriety.
The real highlight of the day, however, was seeing Anis Mojgani read at another venue after our bout. He is, in my eyes, by far the best performance poet working today, a startlingly beautiful writer with an understated delivery, which is really quite rare. A quiet poet who inspires standing ovations and draws out tears at every reading without resorting to melodrama, gimmicks or pure volume, Mojgani succeeds purely on the strength of his poetry. His performance tonight was breathtaking.
It's 2:30 in the morning now, and I think I'm going to go check out the informal open mic that takes place in a gazebo on the hotel grounds each night. It's so dark that you can't see anyone, but you can hear them, and there are no scores given or teams ranked -- just pure poetry. That's the real spirit of the spoken-word scene; individuals from across the country coming together to laugh, cry and share their art.
As I likely won't be reporting on our progress in the competition anymore, my upcoming updates will probably focus on slam culture more -- trends, observations, and so on. Keep checking back!