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 670,000 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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

National Poetry Slam: Nerd Slam & Finals

Being unable to make it to the National Poetry Slam in West Palm Beach, Fla., this year, I ate up all the stories I could find. One of my favorite exhibition slams is the Nerd Slam, which blends "nerd poetry" with pop quizzes about gaming, sci-fi television, movies and books, comic books, geeklit, and other assorted nerdy topics.

Of course, a summary of finals is always a great thing to read, mainly because that's often the eyes I use to how I see NPS.

Being who I am and with my brain and background, I don't think I see certain events other people do. I participate in things, from festivals to lovemaking to fistfights to concerts seeing things the way a poet does or the way a reporter does. I often feel moderately disconnected from things while people who may even have a less vested interest in them, I believe, feel more connected. I'm always looking for how I'll tell the story later, either to myself or through my writing - never specifically to another person. I wonder that when it's all said and done whether I'll believe that I really lived a full life or spent all my time watching it to write about it.
Published: Aug. 9, 2009

I don't hear the term "slam nerd" being thrown around too much, but it's a fact: slam poets are nerds. So despite the cursing, the drinking and yes, even a seduction poem, the yearly Nerd Slam event at the National Poetry Slam may be the nerdiest place on earth. Reserved for poetry dedicated to geek lore, this is the show that exposes the myth of the shy, soft-spoken nerd - starting with the hosts.

If they weren't already, by now everyone is jealous of Shappy Seasholtz and Robbie Q. Telfer. Between this and the Decathlon Slam, they run the two best parties at Nationals, but they take their work seriously. Well, seriously enough to delegate, anyway.

Along with fellow Orlando poet J. Bradley, California's Stephen Meads and Phoenix slammer The Klute, I'm one of a select panel of nerd trivia masters.

So many people sign up for the Nerd Slam each year that Shappy and Robbie have them face off in trivia contests for the right to read their poem - a practice that's arguably more entertaining than the poems themselves.

So it is that we nerds become bullies, thinning the herd with stumpers about Harry Potter and The Terminator films (or in my case, comics).

But my people are familiar with both irony and exclusion, and besides, the practice works. The poets are as solid as ever.

There are descriptions of lovemaking using Star Trek cliches, odes to supervillainy, and even a pantoum about robots.

Crowning a top nerd is tough - right up until a girl reads an entire poem in Elvish. Marriage is proposed, the coveted phaser is awarded, and tabs are paid.

Leaving us just enough time to eat and head off to the finals bout at the West Palm Convention Center, packed with thousands. Nerd Slam was likely the last light-hearted moment this year - it's San Francisco, Albuquerque, St. Paul and New York City's venerable Nuyorican team in finals this year, and the bout is likely to be deadly serious both onstage and off.

Luckily, former slam champion Mike McGee is hosting the event, having flown down from Massachusetts days before. An irrepressible wit, McGee even makes the regular rules spiel hilarious by bringing Jersey poet Connor Dooley onstage to serve as the Flavor Flav to his Chuck D.

And then, it's on. Sure enough, St. Paul's 6 is 9 has the judges by the heartstrings early with his character study about an Alzheimer's victim struggling to remember his wife:

"I don't know her name.
It slipped from me
like words tend to do
when she wears those Sunday dresses ..."

From then on, everyone brings out an impressive bag of tricks in an effort to catch up. Nuyorican sends up a group piece about scoring life experiences slam-style. San Francisco's Denise Jolly uses an amazing singing voice to good effect, working a few bars of "Amazing Grace" into a poem about her mother.

All four members of Team Albuquerque turn into restaurant kitchen workers in a tightly-choreographed piece about the service industry grind, but only Christian Drake can match St. Paul's emotion with his poem that recalls the Samson and Delilah story. Hair becomes a record of memories, "a slow film reel of our lives blowing in the wind". Drake is in tears toward the end as the poem twists into an explanation of why he cut his locks after a lover left him.

In the end, St. Paul takes the night, winning every round but the last. All the teams share the stage, and everyone shares stories and favorites in the lobby.

It's been a long week, but everyone's keenly aware how soon the family reunion will be over. Most of the poets and their friends head to 10@2 for the afterparty, and a few reconvene at the hotel. A bottle of wine makes its way around a table. People pair off on patio benches. And back inside, in one of the convention rooms, poets pull up chairs or floor space and the slam continues, with no judges, timekeepers or numbers. It's one last chance for the poets to read their material to each other, and even Mike McGee shows up to do a piece, spurred on by wine and some prodding.

The game of poetry tag goes on late into the morning [A Cypher Circle], and maybe it's just the fuzzy aftermath that takes away my memory of the specifics, but any poet will tell you the same thing: You end up hearing as many great things in these late night impromptu readings as anywhere else. Why then the slam?

The details differ in the history books, but it's a good bet that poetry started with a fire. People huddled around for warmth, telling each other stories to give their breath some meaning besides another sigh. Somewhere along the line, we tamed the cold in other ways, but we still miss the stories.

So every once in awhile, somebody has to start a fire.

It's a theory.

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