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Poet wins second Taos bout

Once again, New Mexico was the nation's epicenter of poetry during its 22nd Annual Taos Poetry Circus from June 6-14.

Although the circus had many events, including the annual poetry slam and Tag Team Bout, nothing packed the venue as much as the circus' coup de gras - the World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout.

The heavyweight bout, sponsored by the World Poetry Bout Association, has been raising eyebrows ever since its inception in 1982. According to the circus' program, the heavyweight bout has attracted poets such as Simon Ortiz, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Sherman Alexie to compete and defend their titles. This year's contenders were established poets Pat Payne, the 2002 heavyweight champion, and challenger Willie Perdomo.

Fashioned after a boxing competition, the contestants participate in 10 rounds in which they attempt to outperform each other with their original poems. The event includes a ringmaster, a referee and three "citizen" judges who are impartial and not affiliated with the poets.

Truly an event milked for all its worth, the heavyweight championship boasted the most time and effort of circus organizers. The venue, El Taose┬žo Restaurant and Lounge, had almost a full house and the stage was circled with a mock boxing ropes. Howard Bad Hand, in true New Mexico fashion, began the event with a sung prayer.

"I've prayed in many places, but this is the first time I feel like I'm in a boxing ring, so I've got to pray for peace," Bad Hand said.

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After Bad Hand's blessing, the bout almost bordered on cheesy amusement as the ringmaster, circus co-founder Peter Rabbit, announced the contestants in an exaggerated manner, but as soon as Payne and Perdomo began performing, they set the stage for a powerful performance.

Los Angeles' Payne, dubbed "The Velvet Hammer," had little trouble defending her title. A fantastic, stomach-turning poet, Payne has a stunning way with metaphor and imagery. Her most powerful piece was done in the seventh round. The bout's seventh round allows the poets to use props and music and Payne opted for the prop, which was a fake torso made entirely of breasts.

Payne then launched into a disturbing account of a mentally challenged girl who believes that sex is love and does not want her family to press charges against a group of boys who may or may not have raped her. The piece is done entirely through the girl's voice, making it both eerie and sad.

After the bout, Payne said she got the idea for the piece from a news segment about a mentally challenged girl whose family wanted to press charges against a group of boys for using her. The piece is part of a larger performance work that she does with two other Los Angeles poets. Payne said that she improvises the piece each time she performs it.

New York City's Perdomo, dubbed "Word Perfect," was a wonderful contrast to Payne's darker, more methodical poetry. Even with an undeniable wit, he still couldn't overcome Payne's lyricism, but he had funny, brilliant pieces about his culture and family.

The judges gave the bout to Payne, who was only the second woman in 22 years to win back-to-back titles, placing her alongside Anne Waldman. Payne, who defeated the legendary Saul Williams in 2002, was surprised she won.

"I didn't think I was going to win this," Payne said. "I was in no way as prepared as I was last year."

Next year's poetry circus might be in for an overhaul, as the circus announced that Poetry Slam Inc. has entered into a partnership with the World Poetry Bout Association and will help organize next year's events.

For more information on the Taos Poetry Circus, visit www.poetrycircus.org.

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