What will it take to win this year's upcoming National Slam Poetry Competition? Denver's team, nearly a carbon copy of the one that lost in Providence last year, thinks it'll have a fighting chance when 56 squads meet in Seattle beginning on Tuesday. Spokesman and returning member Seth says last year was the best thing possible -- a learning experience.
"We got our tails beat," Seth admits. "None of us knew what to expect. It was a totally new experience for all of us, and we quickly realized that the competition was really tough. We let our nervousness undermine us the first day. Then, the second day we did just fine. But it was a little too late to recover."
Despite the humiliating body slam of a defeat, the overall experience was stunning, Seth adds. He also notes that the nationals expose poets to far more than unbeatable competition. In fact, the competitive aspect is a turnoff for many attendees, who really go to mix, mingle, grok one another and, sure, wow the crowds. If they can. "It's really like a national-performance poetry conference -- some of the best performance poets in the country compete, and performance poetry is alive and well out there," says Seth. "Here, we're kind of isolated." But the team also took mental notes on how to be better performance poets.
In particular, Seth was influenced by New York City's three high-ranking teams. "A lot of these guys are professional actors, and they have everything worked out to a T. Also, there's a lot of variation in what they do. So this year, we've tried to incorporate singing into our group pieces. And I have an acting background, so I've been developing poetry pieces that require a lot of vocal flexibility, where I'm speaking in different voices. That came from watching the New York teams."
And Seth thinks diversity and strategy will tide them over. "We really are a politically correct slam team: We have one female, one lesbian, one black and one white Anglo. Many poets at the nationals tend to be from the disenfranchised minorities -- there are a lot of blacks, Latinos, gays and lesbians." The secret to making that diversity work, he adds, is in avoiding the screed inherent in disenfranchised expression and going for more transformative themes. You'll hear both types of poetry at the nationals, but the latter form, Seth maintains, goes the extra mile.