For many of the hundreds of poets coming to Boston for the National Poetry Slam August 9-13, the main competition is just a warm-up. The highlights of the week are often the special events, which can run the gamut from offbeat to powerful to downright silly. Today, the Boston Poetry Slam announced the full slate of side events for National Poetry Slam 2011, from low-key and brainy day events to wild and raucous late-night affairs. All events are open to the public and, unlike the main competition, most are open to anyone who wants to read.
Nationals’ main tournament events all happen at night, so day events are where poets flex their other muscles, hang out, and engage in all manner of quirky hijinx. “These events are at least half the reason to come to Nationals. At least,” says Day Events coordinator Adam Stone. “Every year The Nerd Slam and Head-to-Head Haiku draw huge crowds, but this year we’re also hosting a few downright ridiculous events for fun, like the Box of Doom Slam.”
Day event highlights include:
● Head-to-Head Haiku Slam — Do you think you’ve mastered the art of concise poetry? This three-day event will determine who has the best seventeen syllable poetry in Cambridge. Whether you call it haiku or senryu, this slam has its own special rules and unique judging system. If you plan on competing, you’re going to need dozens and dozens of haiku ready, as this is one of the most popular events at nationals.
● The Nerd Slam — This event isn’t about having the best poem on a nerdy topic. The Nerd Slam is an open reading where the actual poetry isn’t scored by judges, but the event is so popular that, in order to read, contestants must prove their “nerdspertise” by answering questions on a variety of topics from Einstein’s Theory On Relativity to Chris Claremont’s run on The Uncanny X-Men Comics. Wannabe readers choose the topic, and internationally famous nerd, Shappy Seasholtz, holds the questions and their fate. (Nerds, note well that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter are off-limits this year, as those popular nerd topics now have their own dedicated reading.)
● Rookie Open Mic — Every slam luminary had to get their start somewhere. Come see this year’s crop of Nationals newbies; you might catch the next big thing.
● Youth Slam — Documentaries like “Louder Than A Bomb” and “Brave New Voices” have proven that the next generation of poets is well on its way to establishing itself as one of the best in spoken word history. Come watch the local under-eighteen crowd swagger their way to the microphones. Be prepared to leave embarrassed by your own high school journal entries.
● Box of Doom Slam — Poets are given just three minutes to prepare to perform a poem they’ve drawn at random from a box. ‘Poems’ will range from terrible diary entries provided by other entrants to awful pop lyrics like Will Smith’s “Getting Jiggy With It." Prizes may include never having to perform said piece in public ever again.
Late-night events are a whole different animal. “After their competitive bouts are over, poets tend to like to cut loose a little bit,” says Host City Director Simone Beaubien. “This is an opportunity for our 21-plus poets to party and play together, and we’re pleased to extend this invitation to the greater poetry community.” All events start at 11 pm. Here’s the lineup:
● Hip-Hop Headquarters — Marlon Carey, Rasul the Elder, and special guests host two nights of the finest freestyle and hip hop in the spoken word nation. Live DJs will throw down the beat and the gauntlet for aspiring emcees and established veterans. (Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass. Ave, 8/10 and 8/11)
● Erotic Poetry Showcase — Put some earphones on your children, and tuck their heads under the covers, as April Ranger, Roger Bonair-Agard, and Jason Carney host the raunchiest event of the year. No topic is too taboo. There will be props and costumes that will make you consider that discount lobotomy clinic opening up in Allston this fall. But you’ll leave with stories to tell your grandkids when their parents get on your nerves. (Cantab Lounge, 738 Mass. Ave, 8/11)
● Poetry with the Jeff Robinson Trio — Once dubbed “the best poetry band in the country” by slam inventor Marc Smith, The Lizard Lounge’s own improvisational band provides the best poetry accompaniment on the planet. You’ll swear they spent months working on their arrangements. Hosted by Iyeoka Okoawo and ARTiculation. (Lizard Lounge, 8/9)
● Encyclopedia Show — Think you know a thing or two about the moon? Robbie Q Telfer and an ensemble of special guest poets, artists, and musicians will actually school you in all things lunar. This famed institution of learning, knowledge, poetry, and witty banter began as a monthly theme show in Chicago in 2008. Now franchised to cities around the country, the show was inaugurated at NPS last year. (All Asia, 334 Mass. Ave, 8/10)
● The Decathlon Slam — Part poetry slam, part track-and-field, and all goofy fun: Jesse Parent and friends attempt to reign in three pickup teams from poetry scenes all over the country, laying down improv group pieces, interpretive dance, eating contests, a heckling round… You name it, this slam’s got it! (All Asia, 8/11)
● The SlamMasters Slam — Remember that silent poet at the back of the room during bouts, high-fiving poets who left the stage and crunching the numbers faster than the scorekeepers? That’s the most experienced member of the team, the venue’s SlamMaster (who is frequently their coach, too). Here’s a chance to yank some of those poets out of retirement and see the competitive fire that brought them to slam in the first place. Hosted by Nick Fox. (Cantab, 8/9)
● Legends Showcase: Patricia Smith — The Pushcart Award winning co-founder of the Boston Poetry Slam, who also won a whopping four individual National Poetry Slam titles, and was a finalist for a National Book Award for her book,“Blood Dazzler”, returns home to show today’s slammers how it’s done. (Cantab, 8/10)
Lizard Lounge SlamMaster Jeff Robinson, says he’s looking forward to showing the rest of the poetry community what his band can do. “We have lots of experience working with poets, and we love doing it,” he says. “And the next night, you’ll definitely find me at Hip Hop Headquarters! It’s just great seeing music and poetry come together.”
Remember, anyone can sign up for most of these readings, from hardened NPS veterans to newcomers in the audience. You’ll be able to get into all of the events with a festival pass, which you can order at poetryslam.com (click on “Store,” and then on “Tickets”). Tickets will also be available at the door on a first-come-first-serve basis.
About the National Poetry Slam
The National Poetry Slam (nps2011.com) is America's biggest team poetry slam. Held every year since 1990, it is the definitive showcase for competitive performance poetry. Billed as "the competitive art of performance poetry," Slam was invented in Chicago in July 1986 by construction worker-turned-poet Marc Smith. It is a fast-paced competition where poets have a limited amount of time to impress judges randomly selected from the audience. Storytelling, lyricism, and stand-up comedy all come together in what’s evolved to a modern oral tradition. This year, the 22nd annual National Poetry Slam will be held in Boston, Massachusetts, and expects to draw a record number of teams.