Dig Baton Rouge

Poems for the Win

By Leslie D. Rose 

A poetry slam is a competition where poets recite original work to be judged on a numeric scale by previously selected members of the audience. The highest attainable score is a 30.

The Individual World Poetry Slam (iWPS) is a three-day Olympic style competition between 72 poets from across the country. Before a poet can go toe-to-toe as one of the nation’s best, he or she must first become the top-ranking poet at his or her home venue by way of a slam-off.

Last year in Spokane, Wash., Baton Rouge’s Eclectic Truth representative Chancelier “Xero” Skidmore snagged the number one title at iWPS, garnering himself a spot at the 2014 National et Coupe du Monde de Poesie (Poetry Slam World Cup) in Paris Belleville, France.

On June 3, while Skidmore was in Belleville representing the United States, seven poets at his home venue were strapping up with words in hopes of following his footsteps to the top of the poetry slam world.

Throughout the list of competitors are some of south Louisiana’s most heavy hitters. Sam Gordon was a member of the 2013 National Poetry Slam championship winning team Slam New Orleans. Rodrick Minor is a three-time Eclectic Truth poetry slam team member. As a teenager Deandre Hill was simultaneously a member of the Word Play All Stars Brave New Voices International Youth Slam team and Eclectic Truth. Desiree Dallagiacomo was a three-time member of Eclectic Truth and current member of Slam New Orleans. Jim Dulin, Melissa Hutchinson and William Brain Sain are newcomers to Baton Rouge, with Sain recently nabbing a spot on the 2014 Eclectic Truth team.

At iWPS, there are one, two, three and four minute rounds. For tryouts, Eclectic Truth does all but the four-minute round, scoring poets cumulatively with no cuts throughout the night.

Poets took political approaches in the one-minute round. Highlights include Gordon’s response to rapper Macklemore in regards to his own Jewish heritage, Minor’s piece on experiencing racism, and Dulin’s poem about Toronto’s infamous Rob Ford. But it was Dallagiacomo who snatched the round with a feminist charged poem in response to Robin Thicke’s popular song “Blurred Lines.”

The two-minute round took an emotional turn with gut-wrenching stories of family and death. Sain seemed to be choking back tears as he told the story of losing one of his students to gun violence. Dallagiacomo tearfully followed with a poem about her drowned aunt who was a member of a hobo camp. Minor told of the incident when his father played real life-or-death Russian roulette with him. Audiences seemed to suspect a clear winner as Dallagiacomo added a 29.6 to her already leading score cumulatively giving her a one and one-tenth point lead.

As standard slams require only three-minute poems, the third round saw deeper pockets for all seven competitors. Minor kicked it off with a comical ode to grits landing him a score, six-tenths of a point shy of a 30. Sain scored a 29.7 on a piece about drug-addicted similarities shared with his father. Tying for scores of 29.8 were both Gordon’s “10 men women have warned me against becoming” and Dulin’s poem about his hometown Detroit. In true winner fashion, Dallagiacomo strategically performed her hilarious, yet serious body image poem “Thighs,” which has more than 120,000 views on YouTube. With the audience practically quoting the poem’s lines with her, she was victorious in adding a perfect 30 to her already leading cumulative score, solidifying her as the event’s winner and Eclectic Truth’s 2014 iWPS representative.

In previous years Dallagiacomo had been unsuccessful with winning local individual slams. She credits her recent win to past losses and said she now feels she has developed a larger range.

“Slam is just chance,” Dallagiacomo said. “I rehearsed and prepared, but anybody could have won.”

Originally from Chico, Calif., Dallagiacomo moved to Baton Rouge as a City Year volunteer in 2010. She is enrolled at the University of New Orleans under the Ryan Chigazola Poetry Scholarship. She has traveled the United States performing and is well-recognized for her work. “I’m really excited to represent Baton Rouge,” she said. “It’s where I found my voice and it was the first place where I found people who really believed in my voice.” This year iWPS will be held in Phoenix, AZ from Oct. 9 to Oct. 11.

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