PREVIEW: What to Expect from the National Poetry Slam Competition 2013

The bouts have begun and we have a taste of what's in store for you this week.

national poetry slam competition 2013

The progression of Slam Free or Die’s poem from Sam Mercer: “Hulk use gentlest touch to grab egg. Hulk smash egg . . . Yellow gold liquid hisses in protest. Hulk can relate . . . Bruce Banner enjoys his breakfast.” (All Photos by Margaret Burdge)

The National Poetry Slam: where poets pour their hearts and souls out on the stage, and five complete strangers give those hearts and souls a numerical value. That’s how MC Nick Fox puts it, anyway. Last night, the opening 12 bouts in the annual competition took place, foreshadowing an exciting week of slam poetry ahead, with two more nights of preliminaries, the semifinals on Friday, and the big finale on Saturday night.

Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville are being taken over by 70 teams from across the country (and two from over the border thanks to our Canadian neighbors) who are spitting, singing, and slamming their strongest poems to see who will take the title this year.

For the poets, however, it’s more than a competition. Slam poetry means a chance to voice issues and opinions in an open, free space, coming together to hear the things people are often too scared to say. “It’s an opportunity for people of all walks of life to share poetry with each other, share their experiences,” says McKendy Fils-Aime, who performed last night with Manchester, New Hampshire’s Slam Free or Die and has previously represented Boston in the Individual World Poetry Slam.

“Poetry is a way to really break down communication barriers between people and really get to the heart of everything,” says Elliott Scheer of college team WU Slam. And it’s no wonder he thinks that, as every poem his team produced pulled at the heartstrings of all those in the audience.

While it is clear that each group wants to win, the camaraderie, appreciation and strength produced by these battles are the real prizes. “As long as I walk away listening to some dope poetry,” says Fils-Aime, “Even if it beats me, that’s OK.”

For a sneak peek of what the rest of the week has in store, check out some highlights from last night’s performances at Lesley University:

national poetry slam competition 2013

WU Slam’s Ben Tolkin took hold of the first round of the night with his powerfully honest poem surrounding Spock and the strength of those who don’t make it to the covers of books. “I’m supposed to believe the hero fixes everything with guts and a cocky grin . . . Emotionless detachment has saved more people than heroically dashing in to save an attractive damsel . . . Don’t say I’m not passionate, I’m just rational.”

national poetry slam competition 2013

Vancouver Poetry Slam’s Jillian Christmas dug deep with her “Didn’t Leave Nobody but the Baby” inspired poem about the circle of mother taking care of child taking care of mother. “Coming home from school to find her curled in the darkness of her room, crying and shaking like the wet, twisted leaves of the mango trees, running my fingers through her hair, softly. Go to sleep, little baby.”

national poetry slam competition 2013

“This is a prude’s manifesto,” Bay Area UNIFIED’s Cam Awkward-Rich titled his poem. It began: “Here is a list of things I like more than having sex: reading, lying flat on my back staring at the ceiling, peeling back the skin of a grapefruit, watching the old man who lives in my backyard smoke weed until he becomes his lawn chair, oatmeal.”

national poetry slam competition 2013

The only group piece of the bout came from Bay Area UNIFIED, the winning team, who wowed the crowd with a moving piece about the death of a father who was long dead to the family he deserted. “To the man who was seduced by the bridge . . . You were a rotting corpse for decades, your entire life was a game of Russian Roulette, with every chamber packed and laughing . . . I understand now how there is no prison more confining than the one constructed inside your own body, how there is no choice but to, finally leave us all behind and there is no place for peace in any of my understanding,” said Katelyn Lucas while Tim Toaster Henderson rapped a beat alongside.