By Michael Bertin
AUGUST 17, 1998:
Albuquerque is a powerhouse. The veteran team is anchored by Danny Solis, the strategic mastermind who led Austin to the '96 Slam finals (and the Asheville '95 championship team, as well as the Boston '92 championship team). As a team they can be politicky and are generally more serious in subject matter and delivery; and they would love nothing more than to beat their buddies/rivals, Austin, on home soil. They get the chance in a Word Wrestling Federation Thursday night cage match.
A solid team with Kim Webb, a Detroit slammaster, competing for their side, Ann Arbor teams typically have a more academic style of poetry. They also have two wicked, tough, opening-round bouts.
Asheville won it all back in 1995. However, they finished last in this year's Southeast Regionals, meaning this could be a team on the decline - most of Asheville's former studs have fled to other scenes. It's a traditionally strong team - usually a decent indicator of current chances - but judges won't be scoring on history.
With a lineup that would have a good shot in any finals, Austin will be that much tougher to beat on their home court. Only it's going to need any edge it can get because the team has two killer first-round matches - one against San Francisco, which has beaten Austin twice by the slimmest of margins in recent years, and the other against nemesis Albuquerque.
One of two Chicagoland teams, Bellwood almost threatened to pull out of the whole shebang just 16 days before competition. One member unexpectedly dropped out but the problems were resolved with a late lineup change. This strong team might be slightly handicapped when it comes to group pieces; but otherwise Bellwood should score early and often.
Brian Comiskey is the only veteran on this year's Boston teams. Nicknamed Fabio, Comiskey is a perfectly sculpted bitch of a man and a roofer by trade. He's very much the working-man poet. The team is in transition, and the new faces make Boston a bit of an unknown.
This is Brockton's first time. It's unlikely that the group of middle-aged performers will pull a '69 Mets.
Chicago is where the poetry slam started and the Green Mill (where they slam) is its Mecca, their Camelot, their Wrigley Field. Well, actually, it ain't so friendly a confines as the weak-ass poets get booed off stage, without being given the courtesy of finishing. But is Chicago any good? They invented the slam - duh! Can the Canadians play hockey?
Seems an overwhelming majority of the teams with realistic shots of making it to Friday sit on the front end of the alphabet. The Mistake on the Lake is no exception (although I can't believe they let the Astros get Randy Johnson). Ray McNiece is a very skilled, journeyman poet who tours somewhat regularly; He's very crafty with lots o' word play. And Sara Holbrook, who also writes children's books, is one of the best pure poets on the scene.
With a 16-year-old on their team, Connecticut is all about the youth movement. They did okay last year, but they were hosting. The team was less than stellar in previous years, but they feel like this is a strong team (who doesn't?). Like many of the teams from the East, look for Connecticut to be more cerebral and more academic, less street-wise. It's less spoken word and more poetry.
With this same lineup, Dallas made the semis in '97. GNO, the round mound of sound, is also a hip-hop artist who had his own showcase at SXSW last year. Most of the all-male team is very shock-oriented ... some might say to the point of one-dimensionality. When Dallas reads, you will hear them, whether you like it or not.
One person returns from last year. Rene Tambeau, the "I want to do Tommy Lee Jones while hanging on the cross" poet, is the repeat performer. Jones is a Texan, so the Detroit team can't be all bad.
Fargo had the most well-organized application packet (and it wasn't even close). It was clean and neat and typed and they even had a summary of their qualifying slam. I tell you this because, as a first-time team, almost nothing else is known about Fargo. However, thanks in large part to the Coen brothers, there is rampant speculation that they will be infinitely interesting.
If their material from the Texas Invitational slam is an accurate indication, expect Fort Worth to be crude and earthy, bordering on performance art. They could be very popular for reasons that have nothing to do with poetry. A recent group piece featured one member dry-humping the stage while issuing a line not worth repeating for fear of offending, well, everybody, was loved by the crowd, but it did not score well. (Okay, it was "Whose pussy is this, bitch?" See?)
Glenis Redmond Sherer, an individual finalist the past two years, heads the all-female team. Sherer can single-handedly bring an audience to the point of tears. The Thursday night 'bout with L.A. and Los Feliz should be smokin'.
The team is rap-influenced, very street, very issue-oriented. Three of the four members have been together for a while, which could make for good group work; and two of them return from last year's team. Tough ass-draw, though.
Presidential poetry? Oh, do you think the Austin team is stockpiling Charles Whitman poems? Huh? Do you? Actually, regional sensibilities and topicality are often prevalent and could make for stellar stuff (Get it? "stellar" - "Starr"? So it was a stretch).
The team has experience, but the lack of a really strong local scene could hinder them. On the other hand, the East Coast teams are in such close geographical proximity that the poets usually have seen a variety of different slams and styles, and, hence, have seen a lot of what succeeds. Like everyone else, it's just a question of whether they put it together.
Another first-year team and another complete unknown, curiosity and interest in Kalamazoo is about that of Fargo. Are they amped? Theirs was one of the first applications to arrive.
Knoxville is a first-year team but has experience to burn. Daniel Roop was an individual semifinalist last year and Pat Storm was on the Asheville team that won it all. Storm is a big, red-haired, ex-New Yorker who looks like he could be a professional wrestler. He kind of sounds like he could be a professional wrestler, too. He lives in a cabin amongst the wolves and the wolves are frightened of him.
Next magazine editor Victor Infante coached the Providence team last year, and Chris Tannehill was on the Los Feliz team last year. As an experienced team from an experienced slam area, they could be okay.
Strong. Very strong. Gerry Quickley was an indie finalist last year. Quickley is a poet who can suck you in, get you on his side, then just verbally beat the crap out of you. Another team member is Dr. Thea Iberall, an expert in human brain function.
This team is essentially the defending national champions. They were the Mouth Almighty team last year and have since dropped the corporate tag. Keep an eye open for Evert Eden, a strange-voiced, self-effacing, impish South African (he has pieces like "I Detest Big Breasts") and Beau Sin, the total rock-star speed poet.
Everybody's buddy. Mesa finished dead last in '96. They came to have fun and did. Unfortunately for the revelers, it's all new people this year.
Minneapolis is yet another first-year team, but they've been doing the slam locally for years. Team member Pat McKinnon is also the editor of Poetry Motel, one of the better poetry journals floating around.
One of two San Francisco teams this year. This team was generated from a reading series out of a place called the Chamelion, one of the toughest rooms in the country. San Fran teams don't generally concern themselves with strategy. They show up and read, and their work is usually strong enough to carry them.
Michael Hoermon is a return poet, and just generally a very dedicated slam master as well as a strong and visceral performer. The rest of the team is an unknown.
This could be one of the most entertaining teams and another one of the teams having the most fun here. You can't go wrong with a guy named Johnny Cheesecake. Montreal could be in serious trouble if those pesky Quebec language police turn up (joke). The team was thinking of hosting a bilingual reading locally (not a joke).
Wouldn't you just expect New York to be strong? It's kind of a weird thing because the NYC team has a rule that nobody can be a repeat member. The talent pool is so deep, however, that it's not much of a handicap.
Yet still another first-year team. Oklahoma City has two of the best stage names in Spontaneous Bob and Lord of the Vibes. They could be this year's Mesa.
Lisa Martinovic and Brenda Moossy have been down here enough to know Austin well. That should help in playing to audiences and judges. So should the fact that Martinovic is a strong-voiced, long-legged, gorgeous, cowboy-boot wearing, ass-kicking, sexy woman who ain't afraid to show it. She's a very poised performer and a strong presence for any team.
It's an all-male team, and there's always a scoring risk with any uni-gender team. Many of Portland's usual suspects are suspiciously absent.
Coach Ray Davey also coached the '96 Providence team that won it all. The team is lyrical, emotional, and very, very savvy. Another strong tradition.
Roanoke sports Patricia Johnson, the individual champion in '96. When Johnson is onstage, it's a huge emotional catharsis, so much so that audience members might start to worry while she reads. Bring a hanky and some Xanax.
L.A. the first night. Boston the second. Salt Lake City might have to pull an upset (and it's not beyond the realm of possibilities) if they don't want to be golfing by Friday.
San Fran features Eirik Ott, pound for pound the funniest poet in the slam, and Russell Gonzaga, another highly emotional poet who draws material from a history of gangland experiences. S.F. had an insanely large number of people competing at their slam-off and square off with the homeboys (actually, homegirls and homeboy, singular) in a Wednesday night showdown.
Santa Cruz finished in last place last year, but this year's team should fare much better because, well, it is much better.
Seattle's team is anchored by Bart Baxter, who has been reading on the open mike scene for the longest time. He's a good wordsmith and Fifties handsome with congenial politician-like looks, not that has anything to do with poetry.
Of all the college towns fielding teams this could be the only one with any collegiate flair or members (three of them). They'll be running on enthusiasm (is that thinly veiled enough?).
Want color? Angus Adair aka the Svelt Ms. Spelt is a bearded drag queen who wears a skateboard. Hugh McMillan is best known for once taking a hockey puck to the chin and slamming later again that night. Tough first-night draw. Vancouver almost beat Providence in '96, the year they won it all. D'oh. Tough draw.
"Your bed is a big, soft calculator where my problems multiply." That's stuff from Jeffrey McDaniel. McDaniel's got a deer-in-the-headlights, freaked-out, manic demeanor; like he's done or he's doing too much acid right then and there. Ellyn Maybe just had a book on 2.13.61, Henry Rollins' outfit. She mixes nervous shyness with "Whoa! Where the heck did that come from?" jabs.
Winston-Salem is perennially on the cusp of breaking into the upper echelon of slam cities, topping out with a fifth-place finish in 1996. They have one returning member, Xine, and the fresh faces come from a strong scene.
Worcester's competitors may be too clever and cute for their own good. Kyria Abrahams, Dave Eye, Ed Fuqua, Bill MacMillan all claim that they are "Midwestern boy[s] at heart." Worcester finished fourth last year.
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