Well…as usual sorry for the late post, I was watching the Lak….ahahah gotcha! I was actually in attendance at Da Poetry Lounge as it played host to the Hollywood Poetry Slam Team Finals, which occurred last night (Tuesday, from 9pm-12am). For those that don’t know about Da Poetry Lounge or DPL, it is the largest Open Mic venue in the Los Angeles area. The hosts and founders are Shihan, Poetri, Brutha Gimel, Natalie Patterson and Dante Basco (Fun Fact: DPL was first known as Dante’s Poetry Lounge and is also the basis for HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam).
OK, back to the story. Joy (an awesome poet and our Spoken Word Mentee), Elaine, and I arrived at DPL at around 7:30pm, why so early, you ask? The reasons: DPL is the LARGEST OPEN MIC VENUE in Los Angeles, it’s a slam night, it’s the Slam Finals to determine who will represent DPL/Hollywood Slam Team in the 2011 National Poetry Slam (to be held in August in Massachusetts), lastly, I think many who have been here (including myself) have shared the experience of being at the end of the line and having to wait for the second half of the show. This being Joy’s first time, it was imperative that she get an amazing experience and that meant awesome cushiony seats, among other things. We also met up with a fellow spoken word poet, and Chicago/DC, current LA-native, Patrick Pressl, who has kindly saved us a place near the front of the line.
To help pass the time as well as continue the dialogue about poetry and spoken word (fun fact: I tend to ask these questions to other poets/spoken word artists because I’m interested in everyone’s opinion and it helps me understand what exactly this art form is for me), we all recounted our experiences with the art form, from how we got our start with writing poetry, how we develop our pieces, our experiences in slams (as part of the audience or as participants), where spoken word is and its relation to poetry, and what exactly is spoken word?
Once the gate of Greenway Arts Theatre(host location for DPL)opened, we all filed in and got our seats near front row, facing all the poets, perfect viewing angle for everyone.
Shihan and Natalie ushered in the stragglers and the others who just seemed to be attached to the wall of the aisles.
For those that don’t know what a Poetry Slam is, it is essentially a tournament for poets, who compete against each other based on a score between 1.0-10.0 in .5 increments(lowest and highest are taken out). What makes this pretty cool, unique (and controversial to the critics) is that the judges are chosen from volunteers in the audience, newcomers or whoever, so long as they are not related or friends of a participating poet. Poets are there to perform 3 pieces (in this Team slam they performed 2 singles pieces and 1 group piece with another poet) and all have to be under 3:10 minutes otherwise they get deducted points, if it surpasses 3:30, they are automatically disqualified. What I like about this is that there are varying views from the audience on how they like the poem/how they interpreted it. What I don’t like about it, is something that Joy pointed out when she quickly refused to be volunteered to be a judge, How can you judge poetry? Especially with spoken word: what do you look for? Is it how they perform? Big words? Cliches? What about if they mess up, does that count against them? Etc. It’s all really subjective. I do go back to recalling the whole purpose of Slams in the first place, they were created just to get people to listen to spoken word, and with that I’m glad to be a part of the audience.
Here’s the list of participants in the order of who went up:
1. Rudy Francisco
2. Nick Macedo
3. Vanessa Marco
4. April Rose Rojas
5. Corey Taft
6. Fisseha Moges
7. Javon Johnson
8. Edwin Bodney
Here we go (I’m gonna try to recall everything as much as I can):
Rudy Francisco starts it off with part 2 to his “Scars” piece.
Nick Macedo, I actually, and regrettably, did not get a chance to take a picture of him in his first piece(this is him in his second piece), but it was AMAZING (all caps). It was a love poem from a werewolf to the moon. The clarity in his descriptions and just the originality alone deserved a 10.0 in my book.
Vanessa Marco held it down for the women.
April’s piece talked about imperialism and the battles Philippines has gone through. Akong balat ay matibay - My skin is strong. I love how she melded Tagalog and English in her piece.
Corey Taft, call him a 21st century hippie, but he will spit you a poem about how war is for the weak.
Fisseha. This poet is amazing. I’ve seen him at InkSlam 09 and I am still amazed even more so at how much more he’s grown as a poet. He did a poem from A-Z,then Z-A, then back, and forward again. It’s original and difficult to make a piece that actually fully makes sense going through the alphabet, it also helps that he didn’t restrict himself to just the theme of alphabets and made the poem even stronger when he stepped out of saying the A-Z’s Z-As.
Javon Johnson. This man is a seasoned veteran and just so good. His piece about his grandmother was very touching as he ponders that should she leave this world, how would he be able to carry the world on his back like she did.
The very first time I saw Edwin slam, he actually could not finish his piece. That was then, and this is now, and this is a totally different poet that stood before the audience. His piece was about skinny jeans and being comfortable in your skin. Beautiful and powerful!
Group Pieces time: To be part of a team, you gotta work well with others; the poets are randomly paired and then performed an original piece together.
Vanessa and Edwin’s piece was about Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King Jr. Definitely taught me a bit and just a really good piece.
Man oh man. Put these 2 together and it just shook the foundations of Greenway Theatre. Javon and Nick performed a piece entitled “To Justin Beiber From Michael Jackson”. Just so good!
My favorite group piece of the night. It addressed religion particularly Christianity and Islam addressed their similarities, imperfections, the fundamentalists that have hijacked their religions and how the people need to listen to the regular people’s side of the story and stop listening to the loudmouths. That part where they mimicked a chess match between the two religions and asking each other the insecurities they have. BEAUTIFUL!
Corey and April delivered a piece asking us not to quickly pledge allegiance to a flag, but first educate yourself of the history and know yourself. Pledge allegiance to yourself first.
Red Storm and Lee England then provided a performance as they tallied up the scores to see who goes through to the final round. Spoken word to the sound of a violin, music to my ears!
Nick Macedo kicked off the final round, 2 poets have been eliminated. Once again just amazing story telling (see first photo of Nick Macedo).
Edwin’s piece was about his grandmother and the strength of the motherly figures in his life.
Javon Johnson. This performance was amazing to see. Ok, so here we are listening to Javon just killing it and then all of a sudden he forgets his piece. He tries to recover multiple times unsuccessfully. There was a gasp of shock by some of the audience, including myself, wondering, hoping he’d recover. And then he says “Fuck it” and spits a piece that sounds off the top and fit with the time limit and the piece he was previously reciting. WOW! Spoiler: It was so good in fact that he tied with Fisseha for second place.
Rudy followed that up with a piece about a friend of his being in an abusive relationship. A very sad and touching piece, hopefully, she has left this abusive partner.
April’s piece started with her talking about her father being in love with this girl named “Roxanne”, but it slowly twists into a story about addiction. MMMMhmm…the minute I caught it I was like…”whoa! This piece just got another layer to it”. Awesome!
Fisseha did his Sign Language piece. I loved it when I saw it and I still do after seeing it for the fourth time (without counting numerous times on youtube). Great piece!
IN-Q then performed as they tallied the scores to figure out who will be in the 2011 Hollywood Slam Team.
And here we are:
5th Place: Edwin Bodney
4th: April Rojas
3rd and 2nd (tied): Fisseha Moges and Javon Johnson
1st and Grandslam Champion for DPL: Nick Macedo.
*Rudy Francisco made the team, however, he also made the San Diego Team and decided to represent SD at NPS.
Good luck to all that made it to NPS and thank you DPL for an amazing night! This won’t be our last time being there this month, we will all be coming back during open mics to spit and support one of the greatest open mics out there. PINKY SWORN!