This Weekend Only

The Great Poetry Smackdown

Four spots. Eight poets. Who will make it to nationals after Sunday’s Grand Slam?

By Tiffany Wan April 23, 2010

Poet Karen Finneyfrock makes words sound smooth.

Town Hall makes way for a War of the Words this Sunday with the Seattle Poetry Slam Grand Slam, in which eight of our city’s top bards whip out their finest fighting words to secure a spot on Seattle’s team bound for the national championships in (glamorous!) St. Paul, Minnesota.

Seattle has consistently ranked high among other national teams, and last year we placed second overall in the group performance category. Sunday’s Grand Slam will feature several past national group members battling for a spot on the 2010 team, including Jack Straw writing fellow Roberto Ascalon, Richard Hugo House writer-in-residence Karen Finneyfrock, Bent Arts founder Tara Hardy, and Greg Bee; also in the running are Ela Barton, Maya Hersh, Jodie Knowles, and Rocky Bernstein. Three rounds of verbal sparring—poetry as performance art—will whittle down the competition to four.

Bee, a member of last year’s team, is most hopped up about a piece he’s prepared on health care called “Stephanie.” It’s inspired by the passionate responses to the health care bill across the country—including a protester’s disturbing poster that merged President Obama’s face with Adolph Hitler’s. Bee plans to “practice like mad” before the competition, but on the actual day of the show he likes to focus intently on the subject of his poems to get in him in the proper zone.

“That focus allows me to get fully into the emotional state I was in when I wrote the piece, which helps translate that emotion to the audience,” said Bee, who also writes relationship advice online as The Bitter Single Guy.

Bernstein has killed the mic as a member of youth slam teams in both Seattle and Denver, and she hopes to do the same solo on Sunday. A UW graduate, her approach for the finals is to treat it like a game: “Because that’s what a slam is, just like soccer or backgammon.” Bernstein maintains that slams are “a paradox;” high points get you on the team, but scoring art is, in her words, “wack.”

Headlining the Grand Slam is 2008 World Poetry Slam champion Joaquin Zihuatanejo, who’s been a member of the Dallas National Poetry Slam team and has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. Local poet Gabrielle Bouliane, who passed away earlier this year from cancer, will also be honored Sunday with a showcase of her work and video of her final performance.

The Seattle Poetry Slam Grand Slam starts Sunday at 7 at Town Hall. For more info, click here.

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