Cantab Recap for Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fun statistical fact, Cantab web friends: pageviews on our last Wednesday’s show, the Team Slam Preliminaries, surpassed stats for anything we posted in all of 2013! Okay, maybe our 21 competitors were just reloading the page twenty-five times that day to see if the field had gotten easier, but if you were at the slam, you know it was one of the toughest we’ve seen in the past decade. From some surprising eliminations to multiple dark horse candidates still in the running, the series is certainly upholding its reputation for wildness.

At the end of the slam, only the top twelve would survive to February’s Team Slam Semi-Finals. Here are the rankings after two hand-wringing rounds, with poets in bold invited to advance (and those in italics offered a sacrifice spot):
1. Omoizele Okoawo 52.9
2. Bobby Crawford 52.8
3. Janae Johnson 51.9
4. Princess Chan 51.3
5. Sierra Lister 50.5
6. Sean Patrick Mulroy 50.3
7. Melissa Newman-Evans 50.2
8. Meaghan Ford 50.0
9. Marshall Gillson 49.4
10. Mckendy Fils-Aimé 49.1
11. Michael Monroe 49
12. Allison Truj 48.8

13. Ed Wilkinson
14. Sophia Holtz

15. Zeke Russell
16. Chris Lee
17. Tlove
18. Nora Meiners
19. Kieran Collier
20. Phoenix Bunke
21. Nathan Comstock
DNS: Tom Slavin, Zanne Langlois, Jenn C.

We’d like to offer a special thanks to the remarkable six folks who judges for this marathon 46-poem (three-hour!) slam! Four judges bravely hung with us for the whole show, and our one swap from wavering to alternate judge between the two rounds went so smoothly that the audience might have even missed it. Consistency was absolutely the word of the night for these individuals, starting with truly taking the two sacrificial poems to heart: the warm-up poets’ score total would have been good enough for twelfth place at the end of the night! With more than a six-point margin between high and low totals in each round and not a single 10 (high score was a single 9.7, with multiple 6.7s marking the low-water mark of the night), the judging parties did not once even acknowledge the existence of score creep. When slam finally makes it to the Olympics, these are the judges we will recommend.

The poets themselves also took consistency to heart, with 91% of the scored poems memorized for performance, including all six poems that have been formally declared as “new” by our advancing poets… Two of those poems, as noted above, were performed by the same poet. There were ZERO time penalties incurred; although three poets eked the last millisecond out of their grace periods by clocking in with two poems at 3:09 and one at 3:03, four others kept a poem under the two-minute mark, with the shortest timed at just 0:46. Overall, about 66% of the work slammed landed between 2:30 and 3:00, although our intrepid scorekeeper did not happen to mark at what moment the poem turned.

Lastly, for all the draw fanatics out there: although the much-maligned first spot in the first round did result in an elimination for the poet who pulled it, those who drew 2 through 5 did advance to semis, and only one of those required a higher second round score to do so.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ART, you cry, if you’ve even made it this far? Well, let’s try a quick rundown of the two rounds.

The slam started with warm-up poems by Tom Slavin, who qualified for the series but chose not to compete, and Ellyn Touchette, the second-place finisher in the previous week’s Last Chance Slam. Both poets brought polished work to honor the sacrifice spot, Tom making use of Adam’s surreal Alpacalypse prompt and Ellyn’s readying the room for more discussions of gender to come; little did we know then that Tom’s 25.6 would end up being good enough for third place in the first round. (There might have been a few sighs of relief from competitors that Tom didn’t choose to make a run for the team this year.)

Zeke kicked off from the dreaded one-spot in the first round with his gun permit poem; the amped-up audience might have rattled his rhythm a little bit with some big laughs for lines that usually garner smaller response, but Z stuck the landing with a dignified quiet that, unfortunately, was not rewarded by the judges, leaving him a lot of time to consider his second round choice. Marshall followed up with the first open letter of the night, garnering a one-point margin over Zeke, a margin exploited by Michael with his impeccably performed note to bisexual boys that split the judges between 7s and 9s. Michael’s 24.5 would be enough to place him in the middle of the pack for the round, but Princess’ following poem about a wedding invitation, possibly her most well-known poem at the Cantab, blew everyone away with a 26.4 that put her safely in the lead.

Clean performance was the theme for the night as Melissa followed, scoring just above Michael with a rollicking high school prom poem that blew up the room and gave Chris Lee a tough show to follow. Chris chose a quieter personal narrative that just couldn’t sway the judges, so it was up to Sean to try to bring the scores back up. After a rambling introduction that declared the poem as brand new, he launched into a dramatically choreographed pantoum about The Biebs and sneaked in just a tenth below Melissa with a 24.6. Bobby followed up with the implausible choice to do the same poem he performed on the open mic last week, which also embraced the rarely-used opportunity to sync up with the upstairs blues jam; his Tom Dowd piece, accompanied by a muffled version of Stand By Me, was good enough for a 26.7 and the high score for the round.

Nora came out swinging right after with The Typewriter Game, followed by Sophia putting on a haunting voice to embody the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, then Mckendy with a softer breakup poem. All three finished with scores that would land just below the middle of the pack, topped off by a (declared new) poem from Janae about the experience of standardized testing that put her near the top with a 25.1. Nathan found himself in the unenviable position of chasing Janae’s strong finish; he opted for the first crowdwalk of the night for his poem about his mother as a Canada goose, for which the judges actually seemed to punish him. Allison Truj slipped into the middle of the pack with a solid performance of the night’s second open letter, followed by tough breaks for Kieran with his heartrending Uncle Ben/Spiderman poem and Tlove’s well-known Ants Marching.

The last five poets of the round mostly finished in the 24-25 range, pushing the 23s into dangerous territory for round two: Ed brought paper to the stage for a powerful piece on ghosts and Sierra Lister spent her bittersweet poem to her niece in a room that seemed to have been waiting for just that. Phoenix endeared herself to the audience, although not the judges, with a humorous poem about apartment life and centipedes, after which Oz and Meaghan hauled the scores back up with the night’s only erotic piece and a poem about the word bitch, respectively (although, if the authors had been reversed, that might have been interesting as well).

At the end of the first round, the top five poets were Bobby, Princess, Oz, Janae, and Sierra– a premonition of the finish to come, it turns out, due to the consistency of our judges. After one tired judge swap-out, we were back on the horse for twenty-one more poems! Although no one cracking the 27 mark after round one meant there was room for some big scores to crack open the slam, our consistent judges kept the average score in the second round 0.9 higher than in the first round, which meant it was tough for poets already behind to make up a lot of ground with just one poem left to score.

Ed, the first poet in round two, was the first to experience the score ceiling, pulling a 24.7 for his declaration that he doesn’t give flowers, which would ultimately not be enough to leapfrog him into the top twelve. Tlove’s usually high successful piece about being more lady-like got a similar judge reception, and even Chris’ room-working, chair-standing, all-around-punk meta-performance on separating the art from the artist (hereby making him the only poet to ever stand on the bar and the Hammond organ, a record the SlamMaster does not recommend you attempt to break) couldn’t crack a 25. It took a surprise new piece by Marshall riding the metaphysics laid down by Chris but the first poem to address the struggle of writing, to surprise these callous judges: Marshall’s 25.9 would be enough to propel him into the top ten.

Following up with the shortest poem of the night, Phoenix gave the judges a breath of fresh air, who apparently replied with scores based on poem length. Sean retorted by taking the audience to the fifth dimension, which, it turns out, is a pretty funny place and good for a 25.7. Oz’s Nationals-ready performance of the piece in which he gets drunk and goes looking for god, however, pulled the highest score of the night by a 0.7 margin: his 27.6 would stand as the unbeatable high for the whole evening.

Meaghan made a choice to follow with something quieter, yet with full heartbreaking intensity, for a 25.2 that turned out cement her spot in the top twelve. However, Nora was unable to make up ground after her with a shaky moment in her Choose Your Own Adventure piece: a low score meant she joined Ed in the list of 2013 team members eliminated from 2014 semi-finals. Bobby declared a new, rambunctious poem about punting (with a thematic callback to Michael’s first round), yanking the scores up to a 26.1. Nathan unfortunately caught the yo-yo back down with his tribute to Paul Simon’s 50 Ways, a foray into musicality that did not catch the judges’ ears.

Sophia was another poet on the cusp who needed a strong performance to make the cut; she aimed for funny in her heaven-is-a-diner poem and had the attention of the audience, but a left-end-of-the-curve score was not enough to get her a top twelve finish. Very little movement in the rankings went down in the last nine poems, actually: Janae crushed her previous score with a remarkable, strong, and declared-new poem about the munchkins in the Wizard of Oz (er, sort of); Zeke absolutely knocked the audience down with the most hilarious performance of the night, involving an enthusiastic call-and-response of “high school is bullshit,” that briefly brought him into the top twelve only to have his dreams crushed by his own incoming Mill City SlamMaster.

Michael made the risky choice to spend a declared new piece, a poem about the vagaries of love, somehow pulling exactly the same score he received in the first round. Truj, Melissa, Princess, and Sierra all pulled enough points to survive to semis, with only Melissa spending a well-known piece, The Flute, in order to achieve better seeding for semis: Truj pulled a piece from her arsenal of dinosaur poems, Princess kept to her family theme with a poem about family photos, and Sierra only spent 96 dark seconds on stage to tie for fifth in the second round and finish fifth overall.

Mckendy was the last surprise of the night, having finished below the cut in the first round and in need of a 25.2 or better to catch up with fellow Manchester poet Ed: his 25.6 for his familiar powerhouse open letter was enough to make the grade with room to spare. In a tough spot for the finish, Kieran Collier closed out the night with a letter to his fourteen-year-old self, getting a lot of love from the audience to finish up his run for the team.

In conclusion: HOLY WOW, WE HAVE A GREAT SCENE. Thanks so much to all the poets who performed at this awesome show for us, and to all of you who came (and made it to the end of this recap!). Remember, we’re back with the top twelve poets competing in another two rounds on Wednesday, February 19: Team Selection Semi-Finals.

Of course, that’s a long way away, right? We’ve got lots of shows between now and then: most importantly, we’ll have a full-length open mic next week, as normal, and our feature will be the divine Sam Teitel. The night will close with a speed slam (3-, 2-, and 1- minute rounds) in the 8×8 series. See you there!