Spoken word champs in Midmorning studios


St. Paul's "Soap Boxing," defending champions of the National Poetry Slam.

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St. Paul is the host this week to the National Poetry Slam. Known as the "Superbowl of Slam" among competitors, it is the world's largest annual Poetry Slam event. For those not familiar with poetry slams, they are a combination of written poetry, dramatic monologue, stand-up comedy, experimental theater and hip hop,with room for just about anything else you can imagine.

Today on Midmorning, Kerri Miller is interviewing members of the St. Paul team - who are the defending national champions - and a champion New York slammer. I thought I'd sit along for the ride, and add some of my own thoughts to the mix.

So I'll be refreshing this post regularly between 10am and 11am.

Here are the guests:

Matthew Rucker: Matthew is a Twin Cities artist and the host city coordinator for the 2010 National Poetry Slam. He is also the Slam Master (coach) of the defending NPS 2009 championship team.

Khary "6 is 9" Jackson: Khary is a playwright, teaching artist and poet who is proud to represent St Paul for the fourth time. He is currently ranked 4th in the world individually.

Sierra DeMulder: In addition to winning the 2009 National Poetry Slam with Saint Paul, Sierra DeMulder ranked 9th at the Individual World Poetry Slam, 11th at the Women of the World Poetry Slam and coached Macalester College to Final Stage at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) in 2010. She was awarded Best Female Poet at CUPSI 2009 and in January 2010, her first full-length manuscript was published by Write Bloody Publishing.

Geoff Kagan Trenchard: He has performed poetry on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, at universities throughout the United States and in numerous detention facilities. As a mentor for Urban Word NYC, he taught weekly poetry workshops in the foster care center at Bellevue. He has also taught creative writing workshops in Rikers Island with Columbia University's "Youth Voices on Lockdown" Program. As a member of the performance poetry troupe The Suicide Kings, he has toured internationally with their hip-hop theater piece "In Spite of Everything". He lives in Brooklyn.

10:00AM - By the way, if you're interested in checking out some of the competition, there are plenty of venues to choose from all over downtown St. Paul.

Just had a thought - I bet Kerri Miller would make an awesome slammer - don't you?

You should also check out the names of some of the competing teams... personally I think "Soap Boxing" is pretty clever... here are few more:

Writing wrongs

Mental Graffiti

Poets Anonymous

And then there's the mystifying names:

Puro Slam

Loser Slam

Java Monkey

You can find the rest of the teams here.

10:10 Intimacy of venue - can you imagine a slam competition at Target Center? Probably wouldn't be nearly as powerful.

10:13 Sierra: "The beauty of slam is that it forces you to write for 100 strangers." In other words you really need to share something that they'll connect with.

Hearing Kerri ask about taking the personal public - sharing something on stage you wouldn't say to your family - makes me think Garrison Keillor.


I love how this is like poetry in the sense that every bit of punctuation is important, but because they work as a team, there's more of a dialogue - it's not just a poet and his or her editor.

Geoff makes a great analogy - reading these poems vs hearing them performed is like reading a play rather than seeing it on stage, or reading sheet music rather than listening to the music.

Hmmm... I'm thinking we should have invited an audience into the studio for this hour...

Sierra: "Slam is a game" - I have never thought of it that way! I guess that helps to keep your heart from being too broken.

Now Matthew says he stopped because he took it too seriously...

Sierra: It's liking reading your diary and then getting scored on it... ouch.

10:26 Spoken word feels to me like acting, but in this case, you wrote your own script.

"Leave Your Soul on the Stage" - can you imagine giving so much of yourself on stage that after three minutes you have to leave the room and collapse sobbing? And then for Sierra to say it's actually addictive!

I'm curious to hear Sierra perform...

10:30 Geoff's piece reminds me a bit of a sonnet - the power in the repetition.

Matthew: (in response to question as to whether social networking makes us more willing to share the personal in public) You can be whoever you want online, but you have to be honest on stage in order for people to believe your performance.

Here's Sierra's poem "Werewolf":

Phew! Sorry, took a second to correct the video post...

10:43 Khary is obviously a master storyteller... great use of his voice.

"She was an earth-bound mermaid, singing sea shells..."

Here's Patricia Smith's "Skinhead"

Matthew: The strength of slam poetry is to connect and engage with an audience immediately.

Sierra: Rhyme isn't "illegal" (!)

So none of those people I see with their laptops at coffee houses are spoken word artists, unless I see them muttering under their breath.

It's nice to hear the bleed-through between traditional poetry and spoken word. That slam artists may find inspiration in the rhythm of Mary Karr.

Matthew - the immediate feedback from performing slam poetry made me a better poet.

But aren't there some poems meant to be quiet, subtle, and understated?

And we end the hour learning that the entire slam competition is just a trick! A trick to get us to get involved in the local poetry scene. Nice...