Poets paced in the Outpost Performance Space courtyard on Saturday night reciting poems one last time before the competition.
It was a contest between 10 of Albuquerque’s top slam poets to determine the four that would make the national team.
Chicago-based slam poet Tim Stafford emceed. He said Albuquerque has one of the best teams in the nation, and the Chicago team usually keeps its fingers crossed that they’re not selected to compete against Albuquerque in national competitions.
“As much as we love you, you scare the shit out of us,” he said.
The winners were Jessica Helen Lopez, Christian Drake, Hakim Bellamy and UNM student Damien Flores. They will compete at the National Poetry Slam finals in St. Paul, Minn. from August 3-7.
Bellamy said he’s optimistic about the team’s prospects in St. Paul.
“Everyone who performed was excellent,” he said. “We’ve got very talented writers and performers. If indications of past teams are right, we’ll do some collaborative poems.”
Drake’s winning poem was about soldiers receiving a shipment of harmonicas, and he mimed playing harmonica onstage, sucking air from the microphone.
In addition to the four winners, Joseph Andrew Romero was chosen as a first alternate, and Faustino Villa was chosen as a second alternate.
Romero showcased a poem in which he repeated the refrain “Nothing is linear anymore” at least a dozen times, before concluding with the line “I’m not crazy, just tangled.”
Villa read poems that slid fluidly between English and Spanish, and concluded a poem by galloping offstage while yelling “Until next time amigos, yo soy el superfrijol!”
Romero said slam’s artistic form comes from the connection performers have with the audience.
“In no other art form are you responsible for what you put out to the audience. Every other form, you do it for yourself,” he said. “In slam, you can’t lose that connection with the audience, ‘cause if you do, you lose.”
For those unfamiliar with slam, Romero was referring to the fact that a slam performer is subjected to a judging process. The poets who competed in the finals were rated on a scale of 1 to 10 by five randomly selected judges. The highest and lowest scores were thrown out, and the middle three scores are added together. Audience members are encouraged to boo the judges if they disagree with a score.
The event consisted of three rounds. All 10 poets read in the first two rounds, their scores were calculated, and six progressed to the final round.
Aaron Cuffee, a former member of the Albuquerque slam team that took the national championship in 2005, said this year’s team has a serious opportunity to win in St. Paul.
“It’s a great team. Everyone who made the team has been on at least one city team before, so they’ve got a good basis for estimation of the work they have to do this summer,” he said. “As far as my general handicapping goes, they’ve got a great chance.”
Cuffee said the culture of Albuquerque is conducive to slam poetry and art in general.
“Albuquerque is a great art city with a great poetic and literary tradition in general,” he said. “And as far as slam, it’s very competitive.”
*The 2010 Albuquerque National Poetry Slam team:
Jessica Helen Lopez*