From August 9th through to the 13th, venues from across Cambridge and Boston Massachusetts opened their doors for the annual National Poetry Slam (NPS), attracting "slam teams" from Canada and the U.S.
The week-long event showcases poetry performances from various teams across the U.S. and a few teams from Canada and Australia. This year, 76 teams competed, comprising of over several hundred poets.
Throughout the week competitions took place, weeding out teams, and culminating with a finale on Saturday. To keep poets inspired, busy and entertained, and local businesses booming, many day and night events were scheduled throughout the week. Wordsmiths could choose from themed slams and showcases; such as erotica, nerd, hip hop and even a Harry Potter VS Buffy slam. Many workshops were also available for writers; classes to better their writing, performance or to highlight tour concerns and questions.
Only three of the 76 teams competing at the National Poetry Slam were from outside the U.S.; Toronto Poetry Slam (Toronto, Canada), Vancouver Poetry Slam (Vancouver, Canada) and Muddy Rivers Poetry Slam (Brunswick, VIC, Australia).
Digital Journal spoke with one of the competing poets from the Toronto Poetry Slam team, Eytan Millstone. (The team consists of four members: Eytan Millstone, Lip Balm, Cathy Petch and Electric Jon.)
An actor, comedian and performer, Eytan Millstone was introduced to poetry slams a mere two years ago when he started writing hip hop. Dropping in on open Mic’s across the city to showcase his work, a friend introduced him to poetry slams where he could show up, sign up and perform his craft. “I loved it, there’s a competitive side to it. It’s a place where people really scrutinize over your writing.”
“At a poetry slam, they really listen and they score you. It’s like performance boot camp. It makes you a better writer and performer,” he added.
However, Eytan wasn’t aware of the competitive side of poetry slams when he started out. He was one away from making semi-finals in Toronto last year but didn’t know until after the fact. For this year, he set a goal of making it into the semi-finals.
Surpassing his goal and coming in first place, he made the Toronto team. Eytan humbly attributes his success to hard work and persistence. “I guess it’s because I kept going out and the crowd knew me more and more at The Drake. My writing was getting better from going out to many more slams, and seeing what these amazing poets were able to do.”
Going into Boston, performing in his first National Poetry Slam, he did have some expectations.
“Yeah, I expected to go in and have our asses spanked! There are all these American teams that live and breathe spoken word and have been going for years. I knew our team - we all have a very unique style. I’m doing hip hop, one of the guys on the team is doing crazy, futuristic, schizophrenic, operatic spoken word, and one of the girls is literally doing a poem about a guy having sex with an orange,” he laughed.
“We kept saying we were bringing that international flavour and we just want to be remembered… Everyone loved the Toronto team and everyone had a good time, they thought we were really original and unique and then we got killed by scores and came in 64th place. It was an amazing experience.”
He added, “You go in there and be happy you have a couple of nights of preliminary bouts and if you go any further it’s awesome but you just try to have fun and kill your performance and don’t worry about how you do.”
Even though the team didn’t make it to the finals, Eytan is proud of how the team performed and says that he would rather they be themselves than score high. “You go in and bring up something completely out of left field, the audience loves it, you win the room over but sometimes when it comes to judging that stuff you can sometimes get hurt I guess. We would way rather do that and get hurt with scores than go with something we know they want us to write,” he said.
In a recent article from The Associated Press, a fellow poet competing in NPS, Harlym 125, is quoted as saying the experience is “about the journey.” Digital Journal asked him about that statement and whether or not he agreed.
“Yeah, it’s all about getting there and the slams you do, and just going and watching and being a part of it; seeing what the teams that have gotten there 4 or 5 years in a row can do and being inspired. If you’re going there to win you have a one in 76 chance of being happy - and a 75 in 76 chance of being really disappointed.”
As for larger crowds and bigger stages - they don’t faze him, though he admits you do feel a little nervous before you get on stage, but believes it’s good for performers to feel nervous. “If it’s good nervous energy, you’ve gotta use it. Otherwise you go up there and it looks like you don’t care. You’ve gotta say it like you’re saying it for the first time, every time.”
Eytan and the Toronto team were in Boston for the week and during that time, he was moved, inspired and he revelled the time he had on stage. However, he tells Digital Journal about one moment in particular that stood out for him.
Fellow teammate Electric Jon, “turned one of his poems into a team poem for me and him to do and it closed our second night of our preliminary bout. It got pretty much a standing ovation… It can get pretty formulaic and I don’t think they’d ever seen anything like the poem he wrote. That was definitely the highlight of the week; doing that poem in front of those people and having them lose their minds.Definitely I was honoured to be a part of it.”
As a performer, Eytan feels a sense of responsibility to the audience. “It’s a weapon, you can say things that are hateful, you can say things that are hurtful, you can say things that are boring and you’re just taking somebody’s 3 minutes they’ll never get back. I think you owe it to the audience to put yourself into your performance.”
“It’s always the best compliment when someone says you’ve inspired them or you really touched them. It’s amazing when you can have an effect on somebody. I’ve seen so many poets, and you’re listening, and all of sudden your hair is rising on your skin at what they’re saying and you can’t believe the person is actually physically effecting you right now,” he says with emotional excitement.
Now that he’s surpassed his goal for this year and NPS is over, he said he will probably try and make the team again next year, but believes poets should use ‘the avenues of slam’ as a way of making more contacts, perhaps people to work with on future projects. He would also like to book more features. “It’s nice to go to a place where you’re the feature performer; no one is scoring your work.”
For those who haven’t been to a poetry slam, Eytan highly recommends getting out and seeing a performance or two. “When you go to a poetry slam, I’m going to go up there and do a rap about not owning a cell phone and working at Rogers and someone else is going to go up and do a poem about when they were physically abused when they were young and someone else is going to go up and do a spoken word piece about the moon, so you never know what you’re going to get at a poetry slam… it’s a really fun show to go check out.”
This year, Slam Nuba from Denver, Colorado took the crown. Nuyorican Poets Café (NY), Providence Poetry Slam (RI), and Writing Wrongs (OH) took second, third and fourth place, respectively.
The Individual World Poetry Slam (IWAPS) is slated to take place in October in Cleveland, Ohio. The Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS) will make its appearance in March, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.
The next National Poetry Slam will be in the summer of 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.