This is not Ashaheed's first rodeo. The poet already holds another national championship title for her role on Denver's 2011 Slam Nuba roster. Women of the World, which places Denver in the running to host future and larger slam gigs, is now the city's second concurrent national title. But after maintaining the highest overall rank through both preliminary rounds, it seems the only person who is surprised by Ashaheed's final victory is the poet herself.
Two days after her international win, Ashaheed has yet to recover from the final round, in part because she still hasn't adjusted to Slam Nuba's national win in August. It was never her intention to compete in WOW this year, in large part because of the stress and anxiety that comes with it, but as Nuba's only female member, it was her responsibility to represent the team."I have to be really honest with you: I'm still feeling really disembodied from it all," Ashaheed admits. "The first night was honestly just about trying to power through it, trying to ignore the fact that I'm on the same stage as women like (2009 WOW winner) Rachel McKibbens and (2011 winner) Theresa Davis, all these women I have huge respect and all these powerful feelings for. It was otherworldly."
The 37-year-old poet is a mother of three sons and a daughter, children who range in age from three to thirteen and provide fodder for both her poetry and perspective. As she progressed through the competition over the past few days, Ashaheed continued to surprise herself through her interactions onstage and with her two coaches, Jen Rinaldi and Ayinde Russell. Although her original motivation was simply to "push through" to the end, the Denver poets worked with her on a change in strategy she was loathe to undergo: "They both suggested that instead of powering through it with this politically active, aggressive, throw-your-black-fist-in-the-air vibe, I [instead] tap into this shadowy, vulnerable area of myself that I didn't know I was ready to let out so completely. It was difficult."
Through early poems dedicated to police brutality and a childhood crush, Ashaheed prepared to peel back what she calls, her voice choking up, a "huge emotional layer." Each round became a progression into her vulnerability so that the second night, after realizing she would stand on the finals stage at the Denver Art Museum's Ponti Hall the next day, Ashaheed wept. By then, she knew exactly which three poems she would perform her last night -- and in what order. The structure was dictated by necessity: By the third poem, she would not be able to continue.
Click through for the rest of Ashaheed's story and additional video of the final night.