By Leslie D. Rose
What happens when over a million YouTube views, a bunch of viral poems, and a strong sense of femininity hop in a car to ride from Baton Rouge to Albuquerque? Baton Rouge gets two chances to win at the Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWps).
Held this year in Albuquerque, New Mexico, WOWps is a four day poetry festival, in which 72 of the best women poets in slam compete against each other in preliminary competitions or bouts over two nights – the poets with the top 12 scores from those days move on to finals where one poet will be crowned the champion.
Sending just one rep every year since 2008, Baton Rouge slam hub The Eclectic Truth selected Desireè Dallagiacomo in October 2014 by way of a slam off with other area hopefuls wanting to showcase the Capital City’s chops at the festival.
Beck Cooper was one of those women, who by a stroke of sheer luck still landed a spot at WOWps when she was selected as a storm poet in a random draw by Poetry Slam, Inc., the festival’s governing board.
And while it seems that nothing could be cooler than having two representatives at the festival, Baton Rouge’s two lady-poet gems are also best friends who spent one month of competition prep living as roommates.
“Desireé and I have been running poems and talking strategy since the day I found out I would be competing in WOWps along with her,” Cooper said. “Prepping together has been a total blast. Rehearsing doesn’t feel like a chore when you get to do it with your best friend.”
Both Cooper and Dallagiacomo have competed regionally and nationally, and each has attended at least one WOWps, so strategy is nothing new to either woman, especially not Dallagiacomo who is the third ranked poet via the Individual World Poetry Slam, but even she admits she’s traditionally lacked on previous preparations.
“Historically, I haven’t prepared much for competitions – I kind of just show up and then regret not preparing more,” Dallagiacomo said. “This year I feel ready and motivated. I feel excited to perform and hear other women.”
With that lesson learned and a trophy under her belt, Dallagiacomo said she is also able to focus on the more important aspects of the festival, like networking and using her voice to help others.
“I hope to challenge myself and challenge my audience, which I am still learning how to do each and every day,” Dallagiacomo said. “I hope to offer a bravery that young people can look to as guidance. I hope to inspire others to be brave and honest. I hope to, sometimes, challenge the status quo. I hope to help foster and build community. I hope to spark dialogue. I hope to be an intelligent writer, and I hope to write interesting poems.”
While Cooper hasn’t had her individual moment in the slam spotlight in the way Dallagiacomo has, she’s had her poetry featured on Upworthy.com and has even garnered a few gigs by way of her internet success. But she credits WOWps 2014 (Austin, Texas) as her full introduction the slam world.
“Nothing can compare to the enchantment of WOWps,” Cooper said. “I went last year as a non-competitor, and it was something truly special. Here you have all of these badass women – many of whom I look up to from afar – in one place, sharing in a collective love for poetry and performance. I felt like I had arrived, like these were my people.”
Both from northern Calif., but having met in New Orleans, it was Dallagiacomo who introduced Cooper to The Eclectic Truth during the 2013-2014 slam season. Ensuring superwoman poetry power continues at The Poetry Alliance sponsored event is what Dallagiacomo said is her way of paying homage to the women poets who preceded her.
“I became the poet that I am today because of the Baton Rouge community,” Dallagiacomo said. “I have never represented Baton Rouge at WOWPS and I definitely feel honored. All the women that have gone before me are all women that have helped shape and guide my voice, who I have a great deal of love and respect for and I feel honored to be following in their footsteps.”
Cooper said she feels the same sense of home and tribute when on the mic in the Red Stick.
“I have grown up as an artist in this scene, and I feel an incredible sense of loyalty to Baton Rouge,” Cooper said. “I am always proud to belong to a poetry community that upholds such high standards of integrity and vulnerability.”
But the road doesn’t end at WOWps for Cooper and Dallagiacomo, who said they hope to put forth lots of work for many years to come, while collecting knowledge, accolades, and experience from festivals like WOWps and through their outside work of being viral poet sensations and highly sought-after performers.
“I hope that in the years to come we can continue to cultivate the women in the Baton Rouge scene, and I hope that I can be a role model for women writers in Baton Rouge as women have mentored me in this Red Stick city,” Dallagiacomo said.
The festival begins on March 18, and will also feature poetry workshops, themed open mics, special nighttime events, and parties.