By Matthew Nerger
Since 2003 The Poetry Alliance has held the Eclectic Truth Poetry Slam, a weekly open mic slam poetry and spoken word competition. This Saturday they put on their first ever multi-team tournament, The Red Stick Regional, at the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s Firehouse Gallery.
“It is an event we have building towards for quite some time,” said Donney Rose, who’s been involved in slam poetry in the capital region since 2001 and helped organize the competition. “We’ve built our reputation as a reputable scene for poets across the country to come to.”
The eight teams from New Orleans, Houston, Bryan, Tex., and Baton Rouge competed in two preliminary rounds earlier in the day to determine who would perform in the final competition. Four teams made it through: Team SNO of New Orleans, Houston VIP of Houston, and Eclectic Truth and Tequila Mockingbird of Baton Rouge.
Over four rounds, teams sent both single poets and groups of poets to the stage to perform poems on a variety of subjects in many styles. Some poets read their poems in a straightforward manner while others used elements of performance such as singing and chanting or interacting with other group members as in a play. Props and costumes were not allowed, but beyond that stipulation, poets were encouraged to use all they had on stage to get their message across.
“The poems that work the best in slam have a good life on stage and a good life on paper,” said Rose. “Some poets have seen success by putting more emphasis on the writing, some by putting more emphasis on performance but the ones that become legend master both writing and performance. It plays into the American drive for competition to trick people into listening to urgent messages”
“We spend more time writing the poems than putting the performance together,” says Deborah “D.E.E.P.” Mouton of Houston VIP. She says her team spent March through July of this year working on the language of their poems for the completion, while they only spent July through August blocking out and practicing their performances.
While the poems usually began with respectful silence, the audience was encouraged to respond to the poems during the performance with applause and spoken affirmations.
“You’ve got to let them know they’re doing good,” said Chancelier “Xero” Skidmore, 2013 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and host of the tournament. “If you stay silent, how will they know you like it?”
Poets had only three minutes and ten seconds to perform and were scored by a panel of five volunteer judges.
“Typically judges are picked at the time of the slam,” said Rose. “Some may be spoken word experts and some may be first time attendees. We advise the judges to consider how well the poem is written and how well it’s performed, but ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference.”
Before the tournament began, volunteer judges were taken outside the room to train. After each poem they held up scores from one to ten, with a decimal point to avoid tied scores. The audience was instructed to cheer or boo when the scores were called out to show support for the poets and their opinions of the scores.
Baton Rouge’s Eclectic Truth took first place in the competition, followed by Houston VIP.
You can see some of the participants as well as new poets at this week’s Electric Truth Poetry Slam on Tuesday, August 4 from 7:30 to 10:30pm at the Art Council of Great Baton Rouge at 427 Laurel Street. Videos of the tournament will be posted on Write About Now’s YouTube Page.