Last night, I slammed in Flagstaff.
Manifest Destiny, a poet from Tempe, was the feature. He came up for GumptionFest earlier this month. He wound up staying for almost a week, mainly due to Lori-Ann Rella, Danielle Gervasio's cousin who was also here for the festival and stayed more than a week. She has since moved back to Sedona from New Jersey.
Manifest, Lori-Ann, Danielle Miller and I headed up to Flagstaff around 7:30 p.m.
1) Random draw, 20 max.
2) High-Low, top 7.
I had signed up with Jessica Guadarrama over the phone and pulled slot 17 of 19.
I was more nervous than I remember being in a long time. I hadn't slammed in almost a year and hadn't slammed in Flagstaff since summer 2006. I sat in half a dozen places trying to calm my nerves and get comfortable, but in the end, I had to throw up.
This wasn't just a slam. I was living up to a reputation. All the organizers knew me but hadn't seen me perform. Some of the older poets in the scene have an air of legend around us, even though we were just punk kids and are now just punk kids who look like adults. The room was all college kids, some were certainly in grade school the first time I hit a slam microphone almost eight years ago. I have slammed in Flagstaff perhaps 100 times, but because it's a college town, it's always new and fresh.
I'm also the winningist slam poet in Northern Arizona, simply because I've been in the scene as long as Christopher Lane. He hasn't slammed as much as I have because he usually hosted and removed himself from most competitions after Oren was born.
The only I poets I acknowledge as my superiors didn't stick around long: Nick Fox left after a year and Josh Fleming after two.
While Logan Phillips was a good challenger, he only slammed for four years. He's an Art Slammer, not a Craft Slammer, and art never beats craft in the long run. In a fair 10-poem head-to-head, my diversity of range and content would beat him. There's also too much hidden ego on his part, while mine is naked, which oddly makes it more sincere, less conceited, and more adapt to change with the times. He's a Niche Poet, not a Renaissance Poet.
Suzy La Follette has been the only poet who I think could beat me consistently, but she also left for Austin before we ever settled on who was the better poet. When she left, she was a great performer with many , but I never heard a tremendous range of diversity.
Many of the poets were angsty, others just angry. All in all, a typical college town slam.
It's funny how if you've been in slam long enough, you can ID poets before they speak. It seems like a person's physical build determines the kind of poetry they're going to do when they start in poetry slam.
The host, whose name I neglected to remember, asked me for a little bio before I spit. Among other things, when he said, "and he's been to Nationals four times," a kid of the right side of the audience exclaimed, "shit!" and I knew I had them.
I was the mic, cleansed, and hit with "We Call Him Papa." As soon I spoke, I was electric. No slips, no stutters, no pauses. I killed. I think I pulled 9.7, 9.8, 9.9, 10, 10.
I picked the poem because it is the most sincere piece in my repertoire. It also has such a dynamic voice, from near-whispers to shouts, and I wanted to show the young poets the importance of softer poetry and dynamic changes.
Manifest and Lori-Ann did a teaser poem after poet #19 and round two. It was great for a room full of white college kids to see a black poet perform. They need to see the range of diversity on poetry tangibly rather than theoretically through Def Poetry Jam or the occasional visit to Phoenix or other cities. I wish Flagstaff and Sedona had more poets of color. Flagstaff has Hispanic and occasional Navajo or Hopi poets, but black poets, Asian poets and foreign poets are few and far between. The demographics of the cities preclude those ethnicities from being large right now, but I wish they existed at all or that the demographics become more diverse.
As the top poet from round one, I went first, and hit with "Peach." It was a cheap ploy for scores, but I had to show my range as a performer and it was worth the move. It also established "Peach" as a memorable piece. With that poem out in the open, I'll be known for it in the future, as a form of brand identity.
I pulled a 9.5, 9.7, 9.8, 10, 10.
Lori-Ann and Manifest alternated the feature with her guitar and his poetry. She finished off the feature with two Johnny Cash-esque songs that had the audience clapping in rhythm.
For my victory, I read "My Father Hides in the Stars." I asked the audience to gaze up at the ceiling and pretend to see the stars, which I saw and heard, through the sounds from shifting chairs, they did. For some reason, I was shaking uncontrollably the whole time, due more to coffee and cigarettes than nerves.
I think the nervousness came from me realizing that I had to win. My reputation, not my ego was on the line. If I had been fluffed up so much and lost, how could I teach these young poets what I have to teach them? I'm the old man in the slam scene, the slammer who remembers the first FlagSlam at The Alley and all the trials and tribulations in the scene since the naive days of the first team. Nick Fox, Josh Fleming, Andy War Hall and Arek Dye are gone. Christopher Lane is a ghost who is in charge in name and pocketbook only. Besides, he rarely understood the struggle of the working poets, because he always wanted to earn his credit by leading, not fighting on the stage.
I simply had to win or I would have lost everything. I won by 0.7.
I plan to feature later next month.
This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.