On Saturday night, The Vine Open Mic Poetry Night held its first ever Poetry Slam at Urban Roots. The atmosphere was electric as area poets brought their “A” game and stepped up to the mic in a no-holds-barred battle of wordsmiths.
Well, sort of.
No, I don’t mean that the poets “sort of” brought their best. They definitely brought it. I mean it was sort of a competition. According to host Grace Franklin, the “real” world of poetry slams can be filled with spite, jealousy, contempt and pettiness over the slightest detail. There was none of that Saturday night. The environment of love and mutual respect at Urban Roots on Saturday was anything but negative. It never is. There was in fact so much positive energy flowing in the room that even a first time competitor could enter the “slam” and feel welcomed.
In fact, I did.
I first heard about the slam a couple weeks ago at The Vine Open Mic Poetry Night in one of its regular Tuesday night sessions, held every week at 7pm at Urban Roots. Having publicly recited poetry for the first time that night, and having been warmly received, I decided to enter the slam.
So I waited until the day of the slam, then I contacted Grace and told her I wanted to be added to the list of competitors. She obliged, and my spot was secured. Then I went back and actually read the slam guidelines which had been posted on Facebook. I guess I should have done that first.
The standard open mic rule on censorship applied. Specifically, there is no rule. There is no censorship. Beyond the censorship rule, or lack thereof, there was the time requirement. Grace initially informed us that there would be two and a half minutes allowed per poem, per round. There were two rounds. By the night of the competition, however, Grace had been persuaded – thankfully – to extend the time to three minutes, which was apparently the norm in a “real” slam. I was less concerned about the three minutes than I was about the two rounds. I wrote two poems the day of the slam: “Big Beautiful Black Woman (BBBW)”, about, well, a big beautiful Black woman; and “Tell Me About Love”, which I did not deliver that night, about a thug with a chip on his shoulder who continually comes to church looking for answers and acceptance.
First there would be open mic poetry offerings of the non-competitive nature. First up to bat was Coop, a household name among the OKC poetry and Hip Hop faithful. Coop, who was also one of the judges of the slam, rendered his classic “The Devil Said to Me.” Having now heard his poem a few times, it once again landed upon my ears as if it were the very first time.
A special treat to the Urban Roots crowd was the participation of event organizer David Threatt in the open mic festivities. David rendered two poems, both brilliant, but the latter particularly moving. “I never thought I’d write a poem like this” he told us as he graphically outlined the details of a suicide attempt. David is a survivor of an attempt to end his own life years ago, and now transparently uses his story to help others who may be contemplating suicide. I first heard David share his personal testimony over a year ago during “Pieces of Her”, a stage play by local playwright La’Charles Purvey. “Pieces of Her” revolved around the issue of suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), with which David is significantly involved, partnered with Purvey’s Black Don’t Crack Productions for the run of the play, with proceeds directly benefiting the AFSP. But on this night, David turned his tale of near fatal tragedy into poetic salvation as he creatively outlined his road to redemption – blackout, hospital stay and all – and moved the entire crowd. Much respect David.
When the slam began, Grace called the first contestant, a young lady named Crystal Abercrombie. With one glance, one could tell Crystal was a serious poet. Though I had never met her, I saw her outside before the competition, pacing and appearing to recite poetry. I recognized the behavior because I was out there doing the same thing. I had exited the building to escape the combination of noise and my own nervous energy impeding my thought process.
Also, as fate would have it, my cousin Monica Hawkins and her husband Rick happened to make a trip to OKC from Kansas City that weekend for Friday’s Thunder game. Prior to September, I hadn’t seen Monica in several years. Now, on the day of my first ever poetry slam, she and Rick coincidentally happened to be staying at the Hampton Inn in Bricktown, so close that they walked to Urban Roots to break bread with me and partake of the poetry. No pressure there, just a close family member I haven’t seen in forever on the night of my first poetry slam against kick-ass poets. No biggie.
Crystal Abercrombie confidently strode to the mic and rendered a poem that drew parallels between varying circumstances of singleness and different levels of formal education. She threw down soundly and ultimately advanced to the next round.
Also advancing were two amazingly skilled poets who would ultimately be the last two standing: Shana Prince and Candace Liger. I was familiar with both of them prior to the evening because of their involvement with the stage play Badu-izms which I reviewed. I also advanced to the second round in a three way tie for second with Prince and Abercrombie. I had somehow successfully compensated for my lack of experience and linguistic agility with humor and animation as I rendered BBBW, a tribute to the big girls in the room. And there were plenty, a fact I used to my advantage as best I could.
In round two, Crystal Abercrombie, represented herself exceptionally well again. It was Shana Prince and Candace Liger, however, who would be left standing in the end to vie for the night’s crown. As for me, I abandoned my plans to render the other new poem I had penned earlier that day and played it safe with a poem I had done a couple weeks earlier at my first open mic. I paid dearly for the chump move. In addition to my personally knowing all three judges – Coop, along with Centerria “CenCity” Wright and Tarika “Ms. T” Chappell – all three were in attendance when I first delivered the safe poem I decided to regurgitate at the last minute.
Though Prince was more than formidable in her skillful second round offering, it was Candace Liger who would ultimately prevail with perfect scores in both rounds, the only participant to accomplish such a feat. Her scores were well deserved as she killed the mic, sealing the second round with a poem about a severely flawed brother who was nonetheless the object of a woman’s love and devotion.
Candace Liger went home champion of the first ever slam held by The Vine Open Mic Poetry Night at Urban Roots and winner of the $100 cash prize. All the slam poets – including yours truly – left with a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect for one another and a sense that justice was rendered. Urban Roots became home to a tradition that will no doubt continue. And I left with a resolve to never hold back a poetic offering again when I have one to give and I am presented the opportunity to step to the mic.
In fact, I’ll be rendering my delayed gift of poetry Tuesday at Urban Roots during the open mic session. See you there. Leave the kids at home.
Much respect to DJ Jotti Notch, who brought it on the ones and twos.
Next open Mic Poetry Night is Tuesday, December 3rd at 7pm. Features are Ben & Giddy and Kevin Sandbloom. It is sure to be a great night. Click here to see the event on the Culturocity Calendar. From there you can also import it to iCal or Google Calendar.