By Leslie D. Rose
If finger snapping and rhyming words are all that comes to mind when you think poetry, then either you’re not one of the cool kids, or you just never heard of the Individual World Poetry Slam presented by Poetry Slam, Inc.
And maybe competitive poetry doesn’t ring your bell, but this should, Baton Rouge now holds three trophies from iWPS.
Third place finisher from 2010 Chancelier “xero” Skidmore, executive director of the arts-based nonprofit Forward Arts, tied for first place in the competition in 2013, and now, another third place trophy is looking pretty sweet in the Capital City by way of UNO student and teaching artist Desiree Dallagiacomo, who took the rank in Tempe, Ariz. this month.
Unlike Skidmore, whose Baton Rouge poetry history expands beyond a decade, Dallagiacomo, whom he’s mentored, has a resume just three and a half years long. Spanning from multiple slam teams and Ivy League University performances to YouTube celebrity – with a poem receiving views in the 300,000+ range – she has supported herself through her words.
And when your life is made by poetry, it seems only right that those very poems would place in the top tier of the competitive poetry world. Joining Dallagiacomo in the final round of the slam was winner Porsha O. from Boston, second place Danez Smith, most recently of San Francisco and fourth place Hanif Abdurraqib, Columbus, Ohio – the sophomores of the scene, if you will. What makes that so remarkable is that they knocked some of their mentors out of the competition along the route to receiving their shiny awards.
“I was overall just surprised and honored to be on finals stage,” Dallagiacomo said. “I felt like I was mostly in really great company, among some of my peers and poets that I respect a ton in the community. One of my mentors, Joaquin [Zihuatanejo] was also on finals stage, and that was a whole different kind of incredible. To share a stage with a person that made me believe in my own work was a little surreal.”
Zihuatanejo of Dallas, Texas was the 2008 iWPS champion. Dallagiacomo, meanwhile, has been featured on Upworthy.com, The Huffington Post, EverydayFeminism.com, Indiefeed: Performance Poetry and Button Poetry – Google her.
Being in the constant company of champions and heavy weight slammers, Dallagiacomo was able to conceive a master plan that she would not waver to find her way to the final round of the competition.
“I spent time talking with friends, colleagues about my poem choices – people that really know my work and heard their opinions of what poem should be played where,” she said. “I knew that if I was going be flexible with my plan, I may panic and perform a poem I wasn’t ready to perform. So, one of my big accomplishments was that I was able to stick to my guns all the way through prelims and most of finals.”
And it didn’t hurt that she had a support system, not only on the home front via calls, text and social media, but also right there beside her at the competition. Accompanying her was Beck Cooper of the 2014 Baton Rouge National Poetry Slam team, Eclectic Truth and fellow slammer Justin Lamb, whom she shares the 2014 third place National Poetry Slam title from Oakland, Calif. this past summer. iWPS fourth place trophy holder Abdurraqib is also a good buddy of hers and holds the young poet in high regard.
“Her voice, both speaking and in performance, is an instrument. It reminds me of a blues singer, someone who has lived, and survived,” Abdurraqib said. “What I like about so much of Desiree’s work is the exploration of self through a lens of family and mental health.”
While her voice may remind Abdurraqib of a sorted singer, this lady poet has no reason to sing the blues, especially not since she also just nabbed Baton Rouge’s representative spot for the 2015 Women of the World Poetry slam to be held in Albuquerque in March.
“My same plans for every WOWps – listen to some poems, read some poems, bask in the lady-greatness, take a vacation and eat some good dessert,” Dallagiacomo said.
In the meantime, she is preparing to compete in the Texas Grand Slam (Bryan, Texas) and finding ways to impact the young poetry community in Baton Rouge and New Orleans while she continues to work towards her creative writing degree at UNO where she is the recipient of the Ryan Chigazola Poetry scholarship.
“I plan on continuing to write and make a cultural shift in today’s society,” she said.