Saturday night a team of poets from Albany (Otty Gatto, Algorhythm, Shannon Shoemaker, and Poetyc Visionz) traveled south to Nyack for the 6th Annual Hud,SON! River Regional Poetry Slam. Our team, Brass Tacks, competed against Rock Slam (Nyack, NY), JC Slam (Jersey City, NJ), and the Jersey Shore Poetry Slam (Lakewood, NJ). Back in 2012, at the first of these events, Team Nitty Gritty (Algorhythm, ILLiptical, D. Colin, and Elizag) took the first place prize.
Overall the whole experience was great. I love taking road trips with my poet friends, we tend to have fantastic random conversations that have nothing to do with poetry and they really make these trips seems like a quick walk around the block. I especially enjoy getting the opportunity to travel with Algo and Shannon – no matter how long it’s been since we last talked, we pick up from where we left off. But, back to the show itself. It was exciting to be out to a slam to hear and see folks that I have not seen in a while from all over the region. I have not been to a poetry slam since I turned NGS over almost two years ago.
Some thoughts on the night:
Slam is still relevant
Even though I have had my issues with
some a lot of the decisions that the higher-ups at PSi have made in the past couple of years, I still believe that slam is an important and relevant form of poetry. The issues that I have with the administration of the national governing body have nothing to do with how I view and appreciate the art of slam poetry. It makes many difficult issues accessible for both the writer and the consumer (I use this word not as a negative, but rather as a way to describe those who listen, attend, read, absorb, and purchase poetry and spoken word). This was seen this weekend when the Rock Slam team did a group piece based on “13 Reasons Why”. It was a good spin on depression and suicide using a current show on Netflix as it’s inspiration.
Why so serious?
This is one of the first things that I thought about when I went to the NPS in 2012 and was able to hear poets from all over the country perform. I think that poetry can, and should, be both serious and fun. The poems that I still remember from Charlotte were about cheese, an unemployment line, and a couple arguing like an old married couple. Yes, they had serious stories to tell, but they used humor to get the point across. Most of the poems on Saturday night where personal, dark, brooding. One of the standouts, other than the above “13 Reasons Why” poem, was the teacher talking about having to do active shooter drills in her elementary class (I wonder how a teacher during the Cold War would write about the “Duck and Cover’ drills – having students hiding under desks in their classes in preparation for nuclear attack). There were poems dealing with depression, rape, abuse, and some discussing the human experience with clever word play and surprising twists. On the other side of the coin, our very own Shannon Shoemaker’s “Whip it Out” poem really changed the mood and brought some much needed levity to the room for the second half of the competition.
Albany needs a youth movement
Our team was by far the oldest team in the room. Some of the poets taking the stage Saturday night where fresh out of high school while Brass Tacks were all over 30. This is not a bad thing, just an observation on the spectrum of age and, by extension, experience. I have seen this disparity at our local readings for a number of years and it concerns me. We have a great wealth of talent in the local (and regional) poetry community, no question about it, but we don’t have new, young poets coming out and getting involved. This is perplexing considering all of the high schools and colleges / universities in the area. It was great to hear youth at the slam the other night and seeing some of the “older” poets taking on other roles on the teams – coaches, slammasters, and advisers.
This goes back to my previous points, but I wanted to break it out on its own. The one thing that I noticed about the show was the raw emotion that many of the poets put into their pieces. Their words made you feel what they were feeling when they first put pen to paper. They made the pain pulsate through your body. When they cried, you wanted to cry. I looked around the crowd and could see the faces of the audience as they hung on every word as is left the poets mouth. When the poem ended the sense of both relieve and disappointment was evident – you didn’t want it to end, but you knew it had to. A huge exhale as the emotional roller coaster they were taken on was over.
Like I said, it was great to be back around poets and artists from around the region for this show. Unfortunately we were not able to bring home the win like we did at the first Hud,SON! event – we tied for 3rd (with a very questionable time penalty, by the way), but we had a great time. Good luck to the teams that are headed to Denver in a couple weeks for the National Poetry Slam. Hopefully we will see you in the Albany area very soon. I am not looking ahead as I plan for the upcoming Albany Poets Presents reading at Restaurant Navona and the new Project X series that will be kicking off in September. I will save more details about that for a later post.