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.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Interview questions about Sedona slam poet Claire Pearson

I was recently interviewed about Sedona poet Claire Pearson by a student at Northern Arizona University. These are my answers.

1) How long have you know Claire Pearson?

Photo courtesy of Zack Garcia
A few hours short of 14 months. I met Claire Pearson at 8:35 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, at 34°51'56.5"N 111°47'42.2"W, beneath the light in a parking lot whereupon we spoke for the better part of two hours about our views of poetry, poetic theory, the ghosts of dead men and the lack of good coffee shops catering to the 18 to 21 crowd in Sedona.

2) How have you seen her grow?

In the time I have known her, she has grown approximately 1/6th of an inch, if measured from heel to crown, ignoring variations in stance, pose and bouffant. Based on these observations, I expect that if her rate of growth is logarithmic, she will grow at most an inch by the time she is of legal drinking age, although I suspect she will still be carded until at least age 30 due to her height and unusually large neotenic eyes, although if her rate of growth is linear, by the time she is 100 years old, she will be 11.57 inches taller.

When I first met Claire Pearson, she was a veteran and the de facto captain of the Sedona youth poetry slam team, Young Voices Be Heard, and had competed at several Brave New Voices regionals.
As a Brave New Voices veteran, she knew as coaches many of the national and regional slam poets that I knew as peers.

Although loosely affiliated, Brave New Voices and Poetry Slam Inc. are two separate nonprofit poetry slam organizations. Many “adult” slam poets who have an affinity to mentoring young people crossover from the PSI scene to coach local youth teams in their home cities, while many others leave the PSI scene altogether to coach BNV teams exclusively. As structured in relation to PSI, BNV sees itself as the minor league of PSI, grooming young talent who “graduate” into the big leagues of PSI.
As a high school graduate but not yet 19 years old when I met her, Pearson was effectively at the peak of her growth in BNV and was about to age out of eligibility. She was looking to continue slamming as an adult and I provided the means to introduce her into Northern Arizona’s PSI scene.
Coming into the adult scene already with years of writing and slamming experience behind her, Pearson was able to skip passed the angst-ridden and derivative poetry that many first-year adult slam poets create before they find their voice.

Pearson had already found her voice as a heavily metaphoric, narrative poet with confessional and quasi-romantic tendencies by the time I was introduced to her work. Through slamming against college students and adults twice and three times her age, she has made her work edgier and more accessible to general audiences while still maintaining her metaphoric imagery.

Pearson has learned how to write from a feminine perspective in a competitive linguistic sport that is all too often dominated by the male gaze. She has also been able to exorcise many of those ghosts of dead men, whom she still holds dear but which no longer dictate what and how she writes exclusively. Most importantly, she has moved from being a confident though sometimes timid poet to being to hold her own in slams against national poets, some of whom have toured professionally or competed on the finals stage at the Individual World Poetry Slam.

3) How can you tell she loves slamming and poetry?

Pearson is open to criticism of her work as well as offering criticism of others, not just in the surface of performance flubs or cliché lines, but in the root and structure of the poems and performances. After a slam, we can discuss the atmosphere of the room or why a poem did or didn’t work given the particulars of the audience and the poems, showing that she is not just waiting to read but is critically listening to the work on the stage and how it is presented.

Pearson makes the trip from Sedona to slam in Flagstaff weekly or at least attend the slams as a spectator. She earned a slot on the FlagSlam National Poetry Slam Team in her first year, an accomplishment very few poets have been able to achieve as it usually takes several years to work up the skill and talent to win a slot.

Pearson attends slams outside her home city, which is also something many young poets, especially those in a relatively isolated city like Flagstaff, do not do. In part, she has a network of friends in the poetry scene which makes traveling less intimidating and more of an adventure, but she also has learned how to adapt her work to audiences of differing demographics rather than repeating poems by rote in hopes that they stick with audiences regardless of location. She doesn’t slam just to win, like many poets do without understanding the “why”, nor does she slam just to vent, but rather uses to the experience in whole and in part to develop herself as an artist. That dedication to grow artistically is why audience members who see her week after week are willing to reward her effort, even if as a Sedona émigré she is outside the clique engendered by the somewhat insular Flagstaff poetry scene.

4) What makes her stand out from other slammers and poets?

 Pearson offers a voice unique to Flagstaff as a veteran poet. Due to the transitory nature of college students at Northern Arizona University, the Flagstaff poetry scene does not grow like a typical non-college art scene does. Poetry scenes in large cities have poets who spend years or decades in their scene, serving as mentors and growing into icons to either cherish, challenge or learn from, but few NAU graduates remain in Flagstaff, thus taking what they’ve learned and developed to other scenes away after only a few years. In essence, it’s hard to develop a slam family legacy in Flagstaff. While some poets bloom early and develop their voice quickly, most poets take several years to become who they are meant to, and by then, just as they’re reaching their first artistic peak, they’re ready to move on to communities that can support their careers.

Many first year rookies write what they think they should, which is why many poems sound familiar or similar, regardless of the poets’ backgrounds or personal histories.

With those growth years already behind her, Pearson is able to hone her craft and show many of the poets her age or older what they can become once they have half a decade of writing under their belt. As such, Pearson is a sort of a poetic oracle, showing the path other poets can walk should they pursue our art form with the same sort of tenacity she does.

Claire Pearson will be one of the poets competing at the Sedona Poetry Slam on Saturday, Nov. 1

Poets and audience members are invited to the first Sedona Poetry Slam of the 2014-15, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 1, at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 2030 W. State Route 89A, Suite A-3.

Click here to buy tickets, which are $12.

Slam poetry is an art form that allows written page poets to share their work alongside theatrical performers, hip-hop artists and lyricists. While many people may think of poetry as dull and laborious, a poetry slam is like a series of high-energy, three-minute one-person plays.

All poets are welcome to compete for the $75 grand prize and $25 second-place prize. The prize is funded in part by a donation from Verde Valley poetry supporters Jeanne and Jim Freeland.

The slam is the first the 2014-15 season, which will culminate in selection of Sedona's fourth National Poetry Slam Team, the foursome and alternate who will represent the city at the National Poetry Slam in Oakland, Calif., in August. Poets in the slam come from as far away as Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff, competing against adult poets from Sedona and Cottonwood, college poets from Northern Arizona University, and youth poets from Sedona Red Rock High School's Young Voices Be Heard slam group.

There will be seven slams in the regular season, six in Sedona and one in Clarkdale. The final Grand Poetry Slam takes place next spring, to determine the team.

Slam poets will need three original poems, each lasting no longer than three minutes. No props, costumes nor musical accompaniment are permitted.

All types of poetry are welcome on the stage, from street-wise hip-hop and narrative performance poems, to political rants and introspective confessionals. Any poem is a "slam" poem if performed in a competition. All poets get three minutes per round to entertain their audience with their creativity.

The poets will be judged Olympics-style by five members of the audience selected at random at the beginning of the slam.

Poets who want to compete should purchase a ticket in case the roster is filled before they arrive.

The local poets will share the stage with 350 of the top poets in the United States, Canada and Europe, pouring out their words in a weeklong explosion of expression. Sedona sent its five-poet first team to the 2012 National Poetry Slam in Charlotte, N.C., its second to the 2013 NPS in Boston and Cambridge, Mass., and its third to Oakland, Calif., in August.

The slam will be hosted by Sedona poet Christopher Fox Graham, who represented Northern Arizona on seven FlagSlam National Poetry Slams in 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014. Graham has hosted the Sedona Poetry Slam since 2009.

Contact Graham at to sign up to slam.

What is Poetry Slam?
Founded in Chicago in 1984 by construction worker Marc Smith, poetry slam is a competitive artistic sport. Poetry slams are judged by five randomly chosen members of the audience who assign numerical value to individual poets' contents and performances. Poetry slam has become an international artistic sport, with more than 100 major poetry slams in the United States, Canada, Australia and Western Europe.

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