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.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Ali Langston: "For What Are You Willing to Die?", Individual World Poetry Slam, 2004


Taylor Mali. MC, introduces Ali Langston, performing his poem "For What Are You Willing to Die? at Individual World Poetry Slam 2004 in Greenville, SC.

Videographers: Gabrielle Bouliane, Tazuo Yamaguchi 

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Jeremy Richards, Nathan Ramos "T.S. Elliot's Lost Hip-Hop Poem" 2002 National Poetry Slam

T.S. Elliot's Lost Hip-Hop Poem 

By Jeremy Richards

Performed by Jeremy Richards and Nathan Ramos at the 2002 National Poetry Slam's Team Championship

Let us roll then you and I the evening stretched out against the sky like a punk ass I laid out with my fat rhymes the eternal footman is no one to fuck with alas he shall bring the ruckus you think that you can step to this and lo, I hear your steps like Lazarus echoing through my soul bring the bass

straight out of Missouri 

Harvard University in your face 

I've got ladies in waiting all over the place 

hear them singing each to each 

do I dare eat a peach 

you're damn right I

'll eat a peach

for who shall stop me with my

roof rock nonstop a clippity-clop a clippity-clop

I hear the horses carrying the wassailers 

I'm ready to impale their ears with my verse 

rolling off my parched tongue the way

trousers roll off my ankles 

no other literati around 

can confound 

the post-Victorian quickness I bring 

to the microphone 


— though I shall die alone —


but not before I rock the house

watch me douse you in my eternal flame 

of a freaky-ass style 

my crew has the knowhow 

with the European tangent

Кто твой папа сейчас (kto tvoy papa sejcas)

the Russian for “who's your daddy now?”


for I will tell you that I have

scuttled across the floors of ancient clubs 

and yay, knowing that you may never return 

I will tell you this

that I have

been over to a friend's house for dinner

and lo, the food was not any good 

the macaroni soggy the 

pees mushy and the

chicken tasted of wood

like the wooden coffin I created for myself 

if this is going to be that sort of a party 

I will stuff my desire into the mashed potatoes 

I tell no lie 

I will show you fear 

and a handful of hip-hop

making your body rock 

your soul shutter 

your utter of disbelief 

when the old school 

the ancient school 

returns from busty bookcovers

and scorned lovers 

to reign again on

the open poetry mic

bring the pathos

bring the pathos

bring the pathos


you wannabe MC's just can't stop 

till human voices 

wake us 

and we back the fuck up 

into 

eternity


[Applause]

At the National Poetry Slam 2002 Team Championship in Minneapolis, MN, on the stage at The Orpheum Theatre, Jeremy Richards (primary author) and Nathan Ramos of Seattle, WA perform "TS Elliot's Lost Hip Hop Poem" in Round 2 on August 13, 2002.

Video Lead: Gabrielle Bouliane

Cameras: Emil Churchin, Mike Cadela

Video and Audio editing and production: Tazuo Yamaguchi

PSi Executive Director: Steve Marsh

Host City Chair: Cynthia French

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Aja, Uninvited, Tahami Salah: "Faith"

 Aja, Uninvited and Tahami Salah from Nuyorican, NY performs "Faith" during  NPS 2007 in Austin, TX as an unscored poem in compensation for a technical error that occurred earlier in the round.

Cameras: Aaron Trumm, Tazuo Yamaguchi, IQ and Jen

Video editing: Tazuo Yamaguchi

PSI ED: Steve Marsh

Host City Chair: Mike Henry

Saturday, June 15, 2024

A brief history of the Flagstaff Poetry Slam Team 2001-2024

 


December 2000, FlagSlam founded.
First FlagSlam Dynasty
The Founders' Era 


In 2001, 12th National Poetry Slam in Seattle, Wash.:
Grand Slam Champion: Josh Fleming
Nick Fox
Chris Lane
Christopher Fox Graham
Alternate: Eric “A-rek” Matthew Dye
Coach: Andy “War” Wall
After I graduated from Arizona State University and made the FlagSlam team, I moved to Flagstaff in June.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Dallas
(2) Los Angeles
(3) Seattle
(4) New York, NYC-Urbana
56 teams

Individual Finals
(1) Mayda del Valle
(2) Beau Sia
(3) Shawn V.
(4) Morris Stegosaurus
(5) Angela Boyce
(6) Mama Blue

Second FlagSlam Dynasty
Kofonow Era

In 2002, 13th National Poetry Slam in Minneapolis, Minn.:
Grand Slam Champion: Suzy La Follette
Logan Phillips
Andy “War” Hall
Dom Flemons
Alternate: Jarrod Masseud Karimi (quit before the National Poetry Slam)
Coach and alternate: John Raymond Kofonow
I tried out for the FlagSlam team in 2002 but pulled the "1" and got clobbered. I had already been planning the Save the Male Tour with Josh Fleming, so that was my summer instead. 
 First tie at NPS: New York City-Urbana and Detroit

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
Tie: New York, NYC-Urbana and Detroit
(3) New York, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
(4) Seattle
54 teams

Individual Finals
(1) Sekou tha Misfit
(2) Corbet Dean, of Mesa
(3) Kamal Symonette-Dixon
(4) Xero Skidmore
(5) Rives
(6) Gina Loring
(7) Shane Koyczan
(8) Joel Chmara
In 2003, 14th National Poetry Slam in Chicago, Ill.:
Grand Slam Champion: Suzy La Follette
Logan Phillips
Cass Hodges
Dom Flemons
Alternate: Julie Hudgens (quit before the National Poetry Slam)
Coach and alternate: John Raymond Kofonow
I was a volunteer bout manager at NPS in 2003.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Los Angeles
(2) New York, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
(3) Austin
(4) Oakland

Individual Finals
(1) Mighty Mike McGee
(2) Shane Koyczan
(3) Delisle
(4) Soul Evans
(5) Omari
(6) Suzy La Follette
(7) Corina Delgado
(8) Anis Mojgani
(9) Da Shade
(10) Jive Poetic

In 2004: 15th National Poetry Slam in St. Louis, Mo.:
Grand Slam Champion: Christopher Fox Graham
Eric Larson
Logan Phillips
Brent Heffron
Coaches: Mary Guaraldi, and John Raymond Kofonow
First time all four NPS finalist teams were from west of the Mississippi River (Hollywood's Da Poetry Lounge, Denver, Dallas and Berkeley). One of the worst organized NPSes due to the location of venues relative to each other and the venues in question. This was the first NORAZ Poets slam team.


In 2005: 16th National Poetry Slam in Albuquerque, N.M.:
Grand Slam Champion: Chris Lane
Logan Phillips
Christopher Fox Graham
Meghan Jones
Aaron Johnson
Coaches: Mary Guaraldi and John Raymond Kofonow
FlagSlam sent a crew of poets and supporters because Albuquerque was so close. I was also legal guardian for my ward, Sarrah Wile. One of the best organized NPSes. All venues were within walking distance of the Hotel Blue. The hotel manager lost his job for what he allowed us to do, but won the Spirit of the Slam Award.This was the secondNORAZ Poets slam team.

In 2006: 17th National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas:
Aaron Johnson
Christopher Fox Graham (kicked off team before the National Poetry Slam)
Meghan Jones (quit before the National Poetry Slam)
Justin “Biskit” Powell
Alternate: A.J. Moyer (Joined team)
Coaches: Greg Nix (quit before the National Poetry Slam) and John Raymond Kofonow (quit before the National Poetry Slam)
This year was a train wreck. Those who know why, know why. I'm glad A.J., Aaron Johnson and Biskit had a good time at NPS, though. This was the third and final NORAZ Poets slam team.

Third FlagSlam Dynasty
Johnson-Phillips Era

In 2007: 18th National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas:
Grand Slam Champion: Joseph Nieves
Aaron Johnson
Troy Thurman
J.J. Valentine
Last year Individual Poetry Slam Championships were held at NPS. They would be held at a separate event, the Individual World Poetry Slam starting in 2008. In January 2007, Christopher Lane and his NORAZ Poets nonprofit stopped doing any poetry slams in cut all financial support to FlagSlam. Slammaster Aaron Johnson left Flagstaff and with his departure, the leaderless slam lost its venue. By all accounts, after NPS 2007, the FlagSlam's continued existence was in doubt.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Charlotte, SlamCharlotte
(2) Rhyme or Die (Killeen, Texas)
(3) New York, louderARTS
(4) Denver, Slam Nuba
(5) New York, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
76 teams

Individual Finals* 
(1) Danny Sherrard
(2) Christopher Michael
(3) Shannon Leigh
(4) Alvin Lau
Other finalists: Kealoha
Michael Guinn
6 is 9
Ed Mabrey
Oz
Robbie Q. Telfer

*This was the final year Individual Finals were held at the National Poetry Slam. A separate tournament, the Individual World Poetry Slam, or iWPS, would be held in the fall starting in 2008.

Fourth FlagSlam Dynasty
Rebirth Era (Cartier-Brown-O'Brien, notable for the Lost Boys and the "Flagstaff cadence")

In 2008: 19th National Poetry Slam in Madison, Wis.:
Grand Slam Champion: Frank O'Brien
Ryan Brown
John Cartier
Jessica Guadarrama
Alternate: Kami Henderson
Coach: Dana Sakowicz

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Charlotte, SlamCharlotte
(2) New York, louderARTS
(3) Austin
(4) Boston, Cantab
75 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) NYC-Urbana
(2) Slam Nahuatl Richmond VA
(3) Killeen Texas
(4) Cleveland
(5) Atlanta
(6) Philadelphia
(7) Charlotte
(8) Honolulu
(9) Chicago-Green Mill
(10) Phoenix (Aaron Johnson, The Klute, KB Chesko, Christian Drake, Rowie Shebala)
(11) Loser Slam, Lincroft, N.J.
(12) Seattle
(13) Fort Worth


In 2009: 20th National Poetry Slam in West Palm Beach, FL.
Grand Slam Champion: Frank O'Brien
Ryan Brown
John Cartier
Andrew “Antranormus” Wanner
Jessica Guadarrama
Coach: Dana Sakowicz

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) St. Paul, Soapboxing
(2) Albuquerque, ABQ Slams
(3) San Francisco
(4) New York, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
68 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) Berkeley Poetry Slam
(2) Seattle Poetry Slam
(3)  Fort Worth Poetry Slam
(4) The Stage, West Palm Beach, Fla. 
(5) Art Amok, Atlanta
(6) California- Life Sentence Slam
(7) Loser Slam, New Jersey
(8) Toronto Poetry Slam
(9) Salt City Slam, Salt Lake City
(10) Slamarillo, Amarillo Texas
Fifth FlagSlam Dynasty
Brown Era
In 2010: 21st National Poetry Slam in St. Paul, Minn:
Grand Slam Champion: Ryan Brown
Brian Towne
Johnny P (quit before the National Poetry Slam)
RahMahMercy (quit before the National Poetry Slam)
Frank O'Brien (Joined team in Johnny P's slot)
Christopher Fox Graham (Joined team in RahMahMercy's slot after landing at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport the day before NPS)
Alternate: Christopher Harbster (quit before the National Poetry Slam)
I was going to be a volunteer bout manager at NPS in 2010, but wound up on the team.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) St. Paul, Soapboxing
(2) New York, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
(3) Bull City Slam Team, Durham, North Carolina 
(4) Austin, Neo Soul
78 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) Slam New Orleans
(2) Pomona
(3) Santa Cruz
(4) Oakland
(5) Vancouver
(6) Minneapolis, 
(7) Fort Worth
(8) Ocotillo, (Tucson, Arizona)
(9) Seattle
(10) Urbana
(11) Toronto

In 2011: 22nd National Poetry Slam in Cambridge and Boston, Mass.:
Grand Slam Champion: Shaun “nodalone” Srivastava
Maple Dewleaf
Taylor Marie “Tay” Kayonnie-Ehrlich
Christopher Harbster (quit before the National Poetry Slam)
Alternate: Tyler “Valence” Sirvinskas (Joined team)
I was a volunteer venue manager at NPS in 2011.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Denver, Slam Nuba
(2) New York, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
(3) Providence Poetry Slam
(4) Columbus, Ohio Writing Wrongs
76 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) ABQ Slams
(2) Austin Poetry Slam
(3) The Intangible Slam, New York City
(4) Dallas Poetry Slam
(5) Elevated! (San Diego)
(6) Houston Poetry Slam
(7) Knoxville Poetry Slam
(8) Austin Neo Soul
(9) Houston VIP
(10) Eclectic Truth, Baton Rouge, La. 
In 2012: 23rd National Poetry Slam in Charlotte, N.C.:
Grand Slam Champion: Christopher Fox Graham
Ryan Brown
Tara Pollock (tied)
Shaun “nodalone” Srivastava (tied)
Alternate: Jackson Morris (Joined team)

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Slam New Orleans
(2) Killeen, Texas
(3) New York, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
(4) Hollywood (Da Poetry Lounge)
72 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) Austin Neo Soul
(2) Bull City Slam
(3) ABQ Slams
(4) Dallas Poetry Slam
(5) Piedmont Poetry Slam
(6) Burlington Slam Project
(7) Jersey City Poetry Slam
(8) Loser Slam
(9) Vancouver Poetry Slam
(10) Urbana

Sixth FlagSlam Dynasty
Quinonez Era

In 2013: 24th National Poetry Slam in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville, Mass.:
Grand Slam Champion: Christopher Fox Graham
Jackson Morris
Vincent Vega, aka Vincent Simone
Verbal Kensington (opted out to give Gabbi Jue her slot and compete for the Sedona National Poetry Slam Team)
Alternate: Austin Reeves (Joined team)
2nd alternate: Gabbi Jue (Joined team)

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Slam New Orleans
(2) Hollywood (Da Poetry Lounge)
(3) New York, Nuyorican Poets Cafe
(4) Elevated! San Diego
70 teams

Group Piece Finals
(tie 1) Austin Neo Soul / Intangible Slam
(tie 3) Java Monkey / Houston VIP
(5) Hear Here (Colorado Springs)
(6) Battle Born (Las Vegas)
(7) Seattle Poetry Slam (Seattle)
(8) Dallas Poetry Slam (Dallas)
(9) Salt City Slam (Salt Lake City)
(10) Sedona Poetry Slam (Sedona, Arizona)



In 2014: 25th National Poetry Slam in Oakland, Calif.:
Grand Slam Champion: Ryan Smalley
Josh Wiss
Josh Floyd
Christopher Fox Graham
Alternate: Claire Pearson (Joined team)
Coach: John Quinonez
A caravan headed from Flagstaff: The Yorktown, The Truth Bomber and The Majin Buu. On the first night in Oakland, The Yorktown was broken into and thieves stole computers and clothes from John Quinonez, Christopher Fox Graham and Ryan Smalley but we still had an awesome time.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) D.C. Beltway Poetry Slam
(2) New York, NYC-Urbana
(3) Slam New Orleans
(4) Denver, Slam Nuba
72 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) Hear, Hear! Poetry Slam
(2) Austin Neo Soul
(3) WU Slam (St. Louis)
(4) Philly Pigeon
(5) Palo Alto
(6) Verbal Slap
(7) Lethal Poetry (Chicago)
(8) Denver Mercury
(9) Battle Born (Las Vegas)
(10) Boise Poetry Slam


In 2015: 26th National Poetry Slam in Oakland, Calif.:
Grand Slam Champion: Ryan Smalley
Christopher Fox Graham 
Gabbi Jue
Vincent Vega (Moved to Japan prior to NPS)
Alternate: Claire Pearson (Joined team)
Coach: John Quinonez
 Due to the untimely death of regular FlagSlam poet Lauren Delores Spencer in a car accident, the FlagSlam donated money to assist with funeral expenses. FlagSlam was late paying for registration and instead was placed on the waiting list, but never made it to the regular rotation. Team members went and volunteered and still had an awesome time. 

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) The House Slam (Boston)
(2) Hawaii Slam
(3) Berkeley Slam
(4) Denver Mercury Poetry Slam
72 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) Austin Poetry Slam
(2) Palo Alto
(3) Austin Neo Soul
(4) Slam Charlotte
(5) Atlanta Art Amok
(6) Rain City
(7) Lizard Lounge Poetry Slam
(8) Fort Worth
(9) Portland Poetry Slam
(10) Seattle Poetry Slam

Seventh FlagSlam Dynasty
Quorum of Five Era

In 2016: 27th National Poetry Slam in Decatur, Ga.
Grand Slam Champion: Ryan Smalley
Gabbi Jue
Claire Pearson
Christopher Fox Graham 
Alternate: Kim Possible, aka Kim Jarchow, (Joined team)
Coach: John Quinonez
John Quinonez officially stepped down as slammaster at the conclusion of the slam, handing the reins of slammastership to a Quorum of Five: Gabbi JueRowie Shebala, Wil Williams, Claire Pearson and Kim JarchowTo be clear, Wil Williams is, without a doubt, an absolute shitbag person, rudely condescending, most especially to other women, ignorantly and embarrassingly self-righteous and wholly unprepared to lead anything other than a solo long walk off a short pier.  I had very little to do with her but the exodus of veteran poets sick of her strong-arm tactics to dominate the event was deafening. She literally made other poets I love cry and drove freshman poets away and they called me about it. After running the slam in the ground and causing the five-women to break up as leaders, Facing a coup or complete dissolution of the slam, Wil Williams fled both the slam and Flagstaff and is reportedly holed up in Phoenix as a  "podcast critic," which is as pointless as that sounds and, unsurprisingly, "reviews" things because she made her judgmentalism professionally masturbatory. If she gets hit by a truck, most Flagstaff poets will feel bad for the truck and I know which women will be driving it. 
In any case, FlagSlam has seen struggles before, but Wil Williams was a clear, present and unique threat to its survival even more so than COVID a few years later.
 Kim Jarchow and Claire Pearson salvaged the slam and rebuilt it.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Slammageddon Baltimore
(2) San Diego PoetrySLAM
(3) The House Slam (Boston)
(4) Austin NeoSoul
72 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) ABQ Slams
(2) Dada Poetry Slam
(3) Burlington Ontario
(4) Northampton Poetry
(5) Freshwater Wordsmiths
(6) OM Center Poetry Slam
(7) Alchemy Slam
(8) Union Square Slam
(9) Nuyorican Poets Café
(tie 10) Hear Here / Houston Poetry Slam / Puro Slam

Eighth FlagSlam Dynasty
Jarchow-Pearson-Gates Era

In 2017: 28th National Poetry Slam in Denver. Colo.
Grand Slam Champion: Josh Wiss
Christopher Fox Graham
Kim Possible, aka Kim Jarchow
Claire Pearson
Alternate: Gabbi Jue, (Joined team)
Coach: Davey Latour, I guess?
This year, I stayed in the Denver suite of the Sedona team (Lydia Gates, Briana Grace Hammerstrom, Rob Chandler Gonzalez and Kenny Kreslake), along with Davey Latour. The suite was awesome and worth every penny.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) San Diego PoetrySLAM
(2) Brooklyn Poetry Slam
(3) The House Slam (Boston)
(4) Da Poetry Lounge Slam Team (Los Angeles)
84 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) Dada Poetry Slam
(2) Slam Charlotte Poetry Slam
(3) PuroSlam
(4) Eclectic Truth
(5) Salt City Slam
(6) The Writers Den
(7) Boise Poetry Slam
(tie 8) Steel City Slam / ABQ Slams
(10) Toronto Poetry Slam
(11) Boston Poetry Slam
(12) Ktown Mic Drop Slam
(13) Rain City Slam



In 2018: 29th and final National Poetry Slam in Chicago, Ill.
Grand Slam Champion: Kim Possible, aka Kim Jarchow
Ryan Smalley
Christopher Fox Graham
Lydia Gates
Alternate: Tempest (Joined team)
Coach: None
This year, the Poetry Slam Inc., nonprofit collapse following a contentious SlamMaster's meeting that saw Executive Director Suzy Q, be fired the day before the meeting, then the entire board resign, and a caretaker board eventually form to settle accounts, host iWPS in the fall, then dissolve. It was a mess.

National Poetry Slam Team Finals
(1) Charlotte, SlamCharlotte
(2) Da Poetry Lounge Slam Team (Los Angeles)
(3) Slammageddon Baltimore
(4) Salt City Unified (Salt Lake City)
72 teams

Group Piece Finals
(1) Art Amok
(2) Austin Poetry Slam
(3) The Retort United (The Drunken Retort)
(4) The Fuze Poetry Slam
(5) Jersey City Slam
(6) Orlando Poetry Slam
(7) Boise Poetry Slam
(8) St. Louis Poetry Slam
(9) Nitty Gritty Slam
(10) For The Win
(11) Slam Free or Die

Ninth FlagSlam Dynasty
Gates-Tempest Era
From 2019 to 2024: No National Poetry Slam was held
Grand Slam Champion: Zane Schechterle
Gabbi Jue
Lydia Gates
Catheryn Dawn Tarazi
Levi Phillips

The COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, ending the slam until the fall of 2021. Kim Jarchow moved to Colorado and Tempest Black took over co-hosting duties with Lydia Gates. 

The slam resumed in person in 2022 and was back up to full speed in 2023 and 2024, sending teams to regional competitions in Albuquerque, N.M., and Portland Oregon.

On the national level, some strong local and regional slams continued. Other slams, including some major ones with national presence and long histories faded or outright ended during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arizona slams in Northern Arizona continued. 
In the Phoenix area, the Ghost Slam at the Rebel Lounge, hosted by Cylie Lawrence and Josh Naylor, began, reinvigorating the Phoenix area poetry scene. 
Linda Boser, LMB, in Prescott, began a new slam in that city, which hadn't one since the mid-2000s. 
In June 2023
Arizona poetry scenes were supportive of each other, but in many scene, the "old slam" and the "new slam" faced tensions with veteran poets somewhat dismissive of the younger poets starting poetry slams. In response to this tension and a Facebook meme of "Your poems are not good because ..." brought this tension to the forefront, to which I wrote a response poem "Your Poems Are Not Good Because ... [a response]" or "The Rise, Fall and Renaissance of Poetry Slam"

Friday, June 14, 2024

Gypsee Yo, "To My Daughter, Emma"

Gypsee Yo from Atlanta, Ga., performs "To My Daughter, Emma" during the finals night showcase of remarkable poems selected from prelim bouts at National Poetry Slam 2007 in Austin, Texas. 

Cameras: Aaron Trumm, Tazuo Yamaguchi, IQ and Jen

Video editing: Tazuo Yamaguchi

PSI ED: Steve Marsh

Host City Chair: Mike Henry

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Shappy Seasholtz: "Does She Like Me?"

Host Mike Henry introduces emcee Patricia Smith who introduces NPS contestant, Shappy with his poem "Does She Like Me?"

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Celena Glenn "Roach Motel", Individual World Poetry Slam, 2004

Taylor Mali, MC, introduces Celena Glenn who performs her poem, "Roach Motel" in Round 2 of iWPS 2004 in Greenville, SC.

Videographer: Gabrielle Bouliane 

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Monday, June 10, 2024

GNO: "Say 'WORD'" National Poetry Slam 2000

Patricia Smith introduces GNO at the National Poetry Slam in Providence, RI in August of 2000 where he performs, "Say, 'WORD'."
Videographer: Gabrielle Bouliane

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Taylor Mali: "What Teachers Make", National Poetry Slam 2009

At NPS 2009 in West Palm Beach, FL, Taylor Mali of New York, NY offers "What Teachers Make" at the PG Slam in a public library. This poem can be found elsewhere on this site in context as Slam Safe II    • Slam Safe II: A Whole PG rated Slam  

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

"Your Poems Are Not Good Because ... [a response]" or "The Rise, Fall and Renaissance of Poetry Slam"


(Written in response to numerous Facebook posts that began "Your poems are not good because ..." and "in the old days of poetry slam ...")

"Your Poems Are Not Good Because ... [a response]" 

or 

"The Rise, Fall and Renaissance of Poetry Slam"


I

Our poems were never that good
no one's were 
or the world we talked about
the revolution we prophesied 
would have arrived by now
but it didn't 
and it isn’t
and it won’t
because poetry can’t change a world
drunk on its own power
deaf to so many voices
poetry is only the captured sincerity of a moment
we were the moment

So we kept writing 
and slamming poems 
and sparring on stages
spitting word graffiti against the walls we faced
or the walls we broke down 

The good ol' days of poetry slam
weren't always as good as we remember
Though some days were better than we thought at the time,
remembering now and waxing nostalgic

The bastard son of jazz and Beats
born at Get Me High 
and the Green Mill
where Capone could cover the exits
we spit to barflies and java junkies
book buyers and gallery goers
we had our holy places
Nuyorican, Cantab, Starry Plough
Red Sea, MAD Linguist, the Merc
Bowery and Lizard Lounge
Blind Lemon in Deep Ellum 
in the heart of Texas
and Da Poetry Lounge
the hook there in the name
and a thousand temples 
with a hot mic
a willing owner
and a free night

We crowd-walked like Jesus
called out and heard responses
used microphones and mic stands
as the props we were forbidden to bear
climbed on bars to be better heard
wrote poems for duos, trios, foursomes
to amplify our solo limitations
turned one-person plays into touchstones
persuasive essays into epics
street protests into soliloquies
cyphered in circles
telling tales about our adventures

Our grandfathers and grandmothers
did the same
when the cosmos was our companion
the stars our only stage lights
And civilization was just a campfire

Our skin or status
age, accent or origin 
was wiped clean
we had three minutes and a ticking clock
to change the world
and ten seconds of grace
because we lost track of time
channeling the universe

We had arch rivals and forever allies
to push us forward
Titans and Olympians 
who we worshiped 
for crushing stages 
like city walls 
or opening hearts and minds
to other ways of thinking 
or living
or loving 

We had kings and goddesses
who blessed the microphones
in whispers and decrees
telling us to love ourselves 
in spite of ourselves 
“you are good enough”
“you are good enough”
“you, right now, 
hearing this, reading this
YOU, 
you are good enough
you are perfect”

We had heels and cads we loved to hate
hanging on every verse
waiting for a stolen stanza
a lifted lyric 
a reference to clothing they wore 
a cheater who judged them too knowingly 
an untruth wrapped in beautiful fiction
we could later disprove
and turn into sin

Audiences didn’t care to know our strife
in the old days of poetry slam
they hung on the shimmering words
played out stanzas in their minds
heard old poems new to them
uttered at their first hearing
they left changed, bettered and brighter
the points were never the point
they were the gimmick
to get them in the door

We asked them to judge us
sans background, affiliation or inclination
no doctorate or bibliography required 
their scores, our epitaphs
8.2, even on page
6.9 because it was a sex poem
9.7 worth the bus ride home
5.8, a punch to the gut
7.1 after we dropped a line
9.3 when we picked it up
a perfect 10 with tear-filled eyes
or guts sore with laughter
or hearing their story told through our lips

They judged our game
our struts and frets
in three minutes upon the stage
they were part of the show
they, the reason we spit:
Vox populi, 
vox deus, 
judicat poeta

We had demigods and divas
devils and demons
and sometimes, 
perhaps too often, 
we were they

We were “Beauty Ba Bo” perfectly translated

We had wingless seraphim
their halos lost in stage lights
Fallen angels seeking absolution
Mortals mid-apotheosis
We knew our saints by heart
could speak their names in mononyms
Shibboleths sans surname:
Marc, 
Patricia, 
Saul, 
Beau, Reggie, Taylor, Buddy, Gary, Roger, Bob, Wammo, Marty, Shappy, Klute, 
Sekou, Shihan, Ed, Derrick, Talib, Shane, Barbara, Miguel, Mahogany, Rachel, Sarah, Phil, Pat, MuMs, Jared, Henry, Mike, Scott, Suzi, Christopher, Hanif, Dayvid, Andy, Jack, Staceyann, Ken, Alvin, Corinna, Jaylee, Baz, Blair, Bao, Betsy, Sonya, Rives, Anis, Lauren, Bill, Patrick, Holly, Theresa, Billy, Jugga, Ragan, Steve, Sean, Suheir, Sou, Simone, Sully, Celena, Zork, Omar, Olivia, Oz, Iyeoka, Isaac, Corbet, Ebony, Eboni, Janean, Jamie, Jive, Jeremiah, Jasmine, Jerry, Cristin, Kenn, Eitan, Daphne, Danez, Donnie, Delrica, Duncan, De, Denise, Desiree, Darrell, Amelia, Xero, Mack, Paul, Stefan, Angela, Karen, Midnight, Erik, Sierra, Hakim, Adriana, Frannie, Ebo, Jesse, Matthew, Doc, Lindsay, Mickie, Maya, Laura, Emi, Nathan, Mikel, Mojdeh, Tank, Thadra, Robbie, Omari, Gypsee, Tristan, DaShade, Blue, Blythe, Tony, Rudy, Andrea, Ayinde, Abigail, Alex, Akua, Adam, Taalam, Rowie, Claire, Gabbi, Gabrielle, Genevieve, Goad, Taneka, Cass, Frank, Ryan, Valence, Evan, Josh, Nodalone, Neil, Briana, Brenna, Brit, Randy, Lydia, Jess, Naughtya, Eddie, Amy, Angelica, Caleb, Dylan, Dwain, Hakim, Lacey, Natasha, Zack, Panika, Amir, Chrysanthemum, Imani, Glori, Gigi, Tui, Jerri, Omni, Emanuelee, Ekabhumi, Javon, Jomar, George, Joyce, Joaquin, Mercedez, Mindy, Morris, Mckendy, Mayday, Matt, Esme, Brett, Dahled, Sam, Sevan, Suzee, Sabrina, Soul, Cheryl, Logan, Myrlin, James, Taz, Twain, Tova, Thomas, Crystal, Christa, Guante, Angelique, Colin, Theo, Jozer, Kealoha, Keith, Katie, Kat, Khary, Kataalyst, Bryan, Nazelah, Porsha, Daryl, Ian, Jon, Jay, Jeremyah, Jordan,  
Duke, FreeQuency, Flowmentalz, MrHumanity, Candy, Rage,  Diamond, Nova, Tempest, Verbal, Vogue, Tapestry, Rooster, Toaster, Whoopeecat
Don, Damian and Danny, the Trinity of ABQ
AJ, RJ, RC, CR, GNO, IN-Q when initials were enough 
Bowerbird just happy to be there
Mona turning spoken word into silent speech
Jeanne and Jim, no distance too far
Stephen and Julia with a Tattler
Arrian with a camera,
Inkera with a “welcome”
Clebo shirtless and rarefied
and Mighty Mike McGee, whose three names are always spoken as one

And after,
always after,
always underground
where only poets could enter
if you knew the password
the secret location
was Harlym125
the crownless king
holding court
for the best of us 
to duel in the round
until last poet standing
but no cameras in the courtroom 
no secrets from the sepulcher
no record made in this arena,
our Holy of Holies

Some of us were broken people 
writing to survive 
Some of us didn’t
some cut short by our own hands
some by fate we railed against
some by time, that takes us all
they all died too young
even the old ones
especially the old ones 

Some of us never healed 
some only healed through slam
because of the poems
because of the scores
because of the praise
because of the failures
because we got up again, and again and again
because we could banish our monsters
cast them back into darkness with wordmagic
because we would expose our sins
And find absolution by the last line
or because some stranger
we could not see under stage lights
said later in the lobby
or at the bar
or the afterparty, 
“I loved that poem… 
… you made me cry”
sometimes that alone was enough 
perhaps too often, 
it was enough
which is why we’re still here, still living
save one 
and save the world entire
their tears saving us 
from drowning ourselves  

If not for the old days of poetry slam
we would not know each other 
not have lived the stories in other skins
served in three-minute epics
or afterparties or hotel lobbies
we would not have a safe sofa,
a paying gig and eager crowd
in 50 cities and 500 small towns 
a welcome smile from a host we'd never met
but who knew us intimately
from that poem,
you know the one
the one never that good
whose ending you tweaked 
100 times trying to get right
but to someone, tonight,
it will be perfect 
exactly what they needed to hear
“your poems are not good because” 
you say over and over to yourself —
they’re not good — 
to you — 
swallowed in self-doubt and self-criticism,
but to someone,
tonight,
they are a masterpiece
wordmagic from a microphone
slammed by a wingless seraphim
halo lost in stage lights
chasing their monsters into the dark

The points weren't the point
the point was poetry
we knew that, we knew the math:
1,590 teams went to nationals
only 118 touched finals stage
we went to lose
at nationals, 
lose across states, 
lose across town
hundreds of hours practicing 
thousands of miles traveled
to be statistically eliminated on night one
to be cut from round two
to go over minute three
but we went to share
to become family 
stay family
mourn lost family
you stopped caring about the scores
about winning 
about fleeting victories
you cared about family
about impressing them with a poem
trying something new
and winning because
“your poems are good”
because you became the captured sincerity of a moment
the points weren't the point
the point was we wiped clean 
skin and status
age, accent and origin 
to become stories in skinsuits
we were words walking
the bards, bhats, griots, skalds, seanchaithe,
of our slam scenes back home
and a family wherever we were
we knew that 
in the “old days of poetry slam”

II

We forget now
the churning civil war inside ourselves
“The revolution will not be televised”
we believed wholeheartedly
poets may start revolutions, 
but we don't lead them
without an army, armed and funded
no one fights them
airwaves aren't free
raised fists don't rake in ratings
empty seats at finals add up over time 
But we refused to be bought
we refused to cash in
we refused to sell out
even when bankruptcy came knocking

Our poems were never that good
but we believed our own bios
in the old days of poetry slam
Gaslit by our own press releases
we knew the money would come
the chapbooks would one day be bound
TV gigs and book deals were around the corner
bars would become Broadway
book thrift shops would lead to theaters 
finals night would be standing-room only
MFAs were as good as MBAs
success would fall off the shelf
if this poem was perfect
this line was just right
if this hook had teeth
if we unfurled our dreams into a ship’s sail
we could make it to Avalon or Valinor
Penguin, Simon & Schuster, 
Random House, HarperCollins
PBS or HBO’s Def Poets
presidential inaugurations,
UN floor speeches 
White House dinners
Olympic openings
like the other poets who did

But we forgot
no one reads poetry anymore
no one reads print anymore
we pay to be published
selling books at slams
to make it to the next gig
and we’re left with
bookshelves of others’ words from
The old days of poetry slam

It was never enough to be brilliant
you have to do the work to prove it
sometimes you have to break into Harvard
and put your poetry book on the Woodberry shelf
for it to be found there

Now we count our scars and remember
the sins and stages, the dream teams 
the host hotels and victory poems
hip-hop battles and haiku head-to-heads 
nerd quizzes and fifth-wheel features
group pieces and late-night erotica
a trophy we once tore in half
the beautiful bouts 0.1 points apart
with the whim of a judge — 
some college kid on a date
some mom from the suburbs
some closet writer with her journal at home
some wannabe rapper
some grizzled retiree reliving his youth
or sweet grandma seeing what the kids are doing now —
deciding between prize money and parting gift

We were Kings of Kings, shouting:
“Look on my words, ye Mighty, and despair!

All statutes crumble
All empires fall
All languages change over time
or die on lips of the last speaker

"The old days of poetry slam”
are the “old days” for a reason
and the reasons were legion, 
but sometimes
but perhaps too often, 
we were they

III

But words never die
not once uttered and amplified
they echo endlessly across eternity
or get swallowed back into the throat
for a new voice to speak

The new slam isn’t the old slam
it’s better, it’s worse,
it doesn’t follow the rules
that we belabored and bickered over at slammasters meetings
ensconced in scripture we printed before Nationals
but it’s here and it’s now
and it’s asking us to dance
the steps are new
the new music is different
but we learned the last time
and danced waltzes across stages 

“Your poems are not good …”
we shout on social media
with a million reasons why
some don't read other poets
some don't read better poets
some shun critique or criticism 
some forget it's a gimmick not godhood
some outshine their mentors
some have no mentors to follow 
some first drafts stay final drafts
some value victories over craft
notching one-night slams into headboards
like some of us did

time will cull or cure
like it did us —
we forgotten heroes uncelebrated
we word barons stripped of fiefdoms
we veterans with razorblade tongues

Our poems were never that good
but they were good enough
and the proof is new slam is here
in the echo of the old

They love slam like we did
because we taught them to
the high schooler in the back out past curfew 
the fan who bought our chapbook with $1s
the one-time judge, drunk on our fire
the mourner who saw us grieve in public
watching a man cry without sin or shame, 
the teen who added 100 to your view count
didn’t you see them?
were the stage lights too bright
in "the old days of poetry slam”?
When we gave up
when the old slam became old
when we euthanized it at 34
in the city where it was born
at a meeting of 200 who loved slam so much
we had to cut its throat
when we took ”kill your darlings” too literally
they rose up 
where our words had sowed them
and built temples 
with the blueprints we burned
enriching their soil with our echoes

A legacy isn’t a carbon copy
it’s not a clone or a rerun
children may have our names
but they are only half-us
half-someone else
wholly themselves
something new built on the old

they read our poems in school
in chapbooks, on websites 
shared our voices, videos and clips
In mixtapes, LiveJournal, MySpace, 
YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, 
Tumblr, TikTok, TedX,
Button, Write About Now
They heard us say 
“you are good enough”
“you are good enough”
“you are good enough”
like we were taught
and they believed us
even when we didn’t believe ourselves
they still believe us
because our poems were that good
they outlived their makers
words still speaking 
“Poetry is Necessary”
like food, shelter, water, poetry is necessary

No cataclysm can kill poetry 
manmade or otherwise, 
not really, not forever, 
it'll rise from the corpses, the ashes, 
the broken bones and fallen towers
emerge from the flood waters 
that could kill, 
but not drown
Team SNO taught us that 

We martyred ourselves in suffering
on stages or pages
but not in vain
and not in silence
and someone was listening
even if we didn’t hear it

They heard about a thing called slam
how it could change the world some day
if the poem was perfect
the line was just right
if the hook had teeth
and when the old slam became old
they made it new again

The new slam isn’t the old slam
it’ll wander and conquer and collapse
and get back up, like we did
they will learn by doing, like we did.
they will learn by failing, like we did.
they will learn but getting up again and again and again
they will anoint new saints in new styles
they will take the ghost from our rebel skeleton
and outshine their ancestors
it is out legacy even if our name is absent

We were candles in the dark
but one can light another 
and still burn brightly 
our words remain to light the way 
even if we don't, 
some new poets will become furnaces, 
others bonfires, 
some just brief matches and flashes in the pan
some will come in like a fireball, 
burn into explosion and fade away into the dark
like some of us did
sometimes it’s enough
just to light the flame

Our poems were never that good
they didn’t have to be
but they were enough 
to someone, somewhere
and sometimes, 
perhaps too often, 
that someone 
was me

New slam is here
there are first-timers on stage
new voices in old skins
old voices with new poems
legends in renaissance
prodigies proving themselves
and audiences oblivious to the difference 
but they heard about a thing called slam

because they’re here
our poems were good enough
they’re ready to listen to wingless seraphim
see halos in stage lights
show them the glory 
of the old days
in the new temples
leave them changed, bettered and brighter
like in “the old days of poetry slam” 

There’s a sign up list 
and a hot mic
if you have a poem to share
or an open seat for tonight
if you want to lend your ears

They just want to be heard
like we did
want to say to us — 
but more so to themselves —
“you are good enough”
“you are good enough”
“you are good enough”

and hear us answer 
sincerely
simply, 
with hope
and with thunderous applause

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Haiku Death Match at Heritage Square on April 13, as part of the Northern Arizona Book Festival


The Sedona Poetry Slam and Northern Arizona Book Festival are co-hosting a head-to-head Haiku Death Match at Heritage Square on April 13, as part of the 2024 Northern Arizona Book Festival. The event features $600 in prizes: $300 for first, $200 for second, $100 for third place.

Haiku (俳句) is a form of Japanese poetry consisting of 17 syllables in three metrical phrases of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables.

Japanese haiku typically contain a kigo, or seasonal reference, and a kireji or verbal caesura. 
In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line, while haiku in English usually appear in three lines (5-7-5 syllables), to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku.


A Haiku Death Match is a competitive poetry duel that is a subgenre of poetry slam. The Haiku Death Match is a prominent feature at the annual National Poetry Slam, replete with full costume for the host.
Slam haiku used in a Haiku Death Match is far simpler than traditional Japanese style haiku: The kigo and kireji can be omitted.


Slam haiku are simply three or fewer lines of exactly 17 syllables, no more, no less. Slam haiku can be anything from a single 17-syllable sing line or simply 17 words.

"Old Pond’’ by Matsuo Bashō [1644-1694] — a haiga in his own handwriting

Matsuo Bashō [1644-1694], born Matsuo Kinsaku, later known as Matsuo Chūemon Munefusa was the most famous Japanese poet of the Edo period. Bashō's most famous haiku:
古池や 
蛙飛び込む 
水の音

koike ya
kaeru tobikomu
mizu no on

Translated by Robert Hass as
Old pond…
a frog jumps in
water’s sound

やがて死ぬ
けしきは見え
ず蝉の声

yagate shinu 
keshiki wa miezu 
semi no koe

Translated by David G. Lanoue as:
The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die.


A standard Haiku Death Match is conducted thus:
⏹The host randomly draws the names of two poets, known as haikusters, from the pool of competitors.
⏹The haikusters adorn headbands of two colors: Red and Not-Red (white).
⏹Red Haikuster and Not-Red Haikuster bow to each other to demostrate they are friendly and that a Haiku Death Match is ultimately a silly thing.
⏹Red Haikuster goes first.
⏹The Red Haikuster reads his or her haiku twice. The audience does not clap or make noise (usually, though, they laugh or vocalize, but, of course, we must pretend that this is completely unacceptable).
⏹The Not-Red Haikuster reads his or her haiku twice. Again, the audience does not clap or make noise.
⏹The host waits for the three judges to make their choice for winner, then signals them to hold aloft their Red or Not-Red flag.
⏹Simple majority (3-0 or 2-1) determines the winner.
⏹The host asks the audience to demonstrate “the sound of one hand clapping,” i.e., silence, then “the sound of two hands clapping,” at which point they can finally applaud. The mock ceremony involving the audience is half the fun.
⏹The winning haikuster of that round then goes first.
Depending on the round, the winner will be best 3 of 5, 4 of 7, best 5 of 9, etc., of a number determined beforehand for each round.
After the duel, Red Haikuster and Not-Red Haikuster bow to each other and shake hands. The next duel begins.

Haiku by Matsuo Bashō:
"Quietly, quietly,
yellow mountain roses fall –
sound of the rapids"
Rules for the Haiku Death Match:
⏹Register: E-mail at foxthepoet@yahoo.com
⏹Participation: Anyone can compete.
⏹No Titles: Haikusters shall not read the title of the haiku. Just the 17-syllable haiku itself.
⏹While some haiku are merely three lines, Death Match Haiku must be 17 syllables exactly.
⏹Haikusters shall read the haiku twice, first for initial recitation, the second time for proper digestion. 
⏹Originality: Poets must be the sole authors of the haiku they use in competition. Plagiarized or others' haiku are grounds for disqualification. We all love Matsuo Bashō, but he’s 300 years too dead to compete.
⏹Preparation: Poets can have haiku written beforehand or write them in their head while at the mic. As long as the haiku are 17 syllables, we don’t care how, when or from where the haiku originates. 
Poets can read from the page, book, journal, notepad, smartphone, etc. 
⏹Rounds: Will be determined by the number of haikusters who sign up to compete.
⏹Quantity of haiku needed: Depends on the number of rounds. 30 haiku will likely be enough for poets who push rounds to the last haiku needed and go all the rounds, but 20 haiku might be enough. 50 to 100 gives haikusters enough material to be flexible in competition. Most veteran haikusters have several hundred to compete with.
If you run out of pre-written haiku, you can make them up on the mic and count on your fingers; that's perfectly fine.
⏹Adult themes and language. Remember that this is a live event and content of haiku will not be known ahead of time, but the event takes place at Heritage Square at a family friendly event. Please respect the audience, There may be children present so you may have to deal with their parents afterward. 
⏹Judges: Three random people at the event will be selected as the judges. Using the "fluid rule," the judges cannot share bodily fluids with any of the haikusters (i.e., no parents, siblings, blood relatives, children, spouses or lovers) and hope that the judges are not related and the event is fair. We will ask the haikusters before the Death Match if that rule applies to any judges before the event begins.
⏹Draw: We will pull two names from a hat containing the names of the competitors before each duel. If your name is drawn, you must haiku in that duel.
⏹Third Place: When we get to the final four haikusters, the top two will advance. The two defeated haikusters will then compete for third place, and the $100 prize, before the top two haikusters compete for first place ($300) and second place ($200).

This sheet of kaishi writing paper is inscribed with verse by Japan’s most famous haiku poet, Matsuo Bashō, and one of his pupils in the teacher’s own handwriting. When this work was first publically displayed at Seattle Asian Art Museum in 2015, it created a small sensation among literary specialists in Japan because not only were the Bashō poems recorded here previously unknown, the work must date to relatively early in his career as a poet, before he turned 40. In the West, it would be the equivalent of discovering a manuscript with previously unpublished poems by (Bashō’s contemporary) John Milton in his own hand. At the time of the discovery, the Bashō expert professor Tamaki Tsukasa stated that the handwriting, seal, and signature could also be authenticated as genuine.
Credit: Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection, Gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles, 2018, The Met


What’s the Best Strategy to Win a Haiku Death Match?
⏹A winning haikuster is flexible.
⏹If your opponent reads a serious or deep haiku, read one that is more serious or more profound, or go on the opposite tack and read something funny.
⏹If your opponent reads a funny haiku, read one that is funnier, or go on the opposite tack and read something serious or deep.
⏹If your opponent makes fun of you, make fun of yourself even bigger or make fun of them. A good head-to-head haiku can work wonders and often wins a Haiku duel. 
⏹If you’re on stage and you get an idea for a haiku, feel free to write it down immediately. That might be the next round’s haiku that wins you the duel.
⏹Have a good time. Even if don't get past the first round, it's still a great time for all.
⏹You get to read the haiku twice, so let that play into how you read it. You may want to read it verbatim with the same inflection or intonation, or you may want to emphasize a different portion of the haiku the second time. You may also use the repetition to your advantage and write a haiku about repeating yourself.

Poet Matsuo Bashō meets two farmers celebrating the mid-autumn moon festival in an 1891 print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi from "Hundred Aspects of the Moon." The haiku reads:
“Since the crescent moon,
I have been waiting
for tonight.”



The Robert Spiess Memorial 2012 Haiku Awards
nautical chart
I touch the depth
of my mother’s ashes
— Scott Mason, First Prize

slave quarters ...
the shapes of their shadows
in this dust
— Duro Jaiye, Second Prize

shades of blue ...
the deer’s remaining eye
cradled by bone
— Susan Constable, Third Prize

winter dusk
my grief released
from the crow’s throat
— Margaret Chula, Honorable Mention

formation of geese —
a log opens
to the woodsman’s maul
— Michele L. Harvey, Honorable Mention

I seem to be
an intermittent shadow . . .
summer clouds
— Kirsty Karkow, Honorable Mention