Cantab Recap for Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The 2016 Boston Poetry Slam Team Selection Semi-Finals have come and gone, poetry fans, laying waste to many beers and three very talented poets. Here are the results from last night’s epic slam:

1. Zeke Russell 53.2
2. Marshall Gillson 53.1
3. Simone Beaubien 52.6
4. Mckendy Fils-Aimé 52.5
5. JR Mahung 51.6
6. Neiel Israel 51.0
7. Joshua Elbaum 50.2
8. Manvir Singh 50.1
9. Meaghan Ford 49.9

10. Nora Meiners
11. Bobby Crawford
12. Emily O’Neill
Poets in bold have qualified to advance to Finals on March 16.

After room-flaming sacrifices from WOWPS-bound Jess Rizkallah and double-plus Last-Chance champ Colin Killick, last-minute add to the slam Emily kicked in the door with Rappelling, a heartrending family poem in the key of social media. Manvir followed up with a both surprisingly and unsurprisingly surreal tale of a chimpanzee and a town matriarch, with Joshua hot on his heels, breaking hearts with the dirtiest refrigerator in town (and the only time penalty of the night). All three poets held score until Marshall pumped up the judges with a little Stunting, breaking open the funny and setting up Mckendy for what would turn out to be the high score of the night with Via Negativa.

Now barely halfway through the round, the judges had settled into a terrifying groove, throwing sevens with the same frequency as nines, and with an occasional five thrown in for spice. Simone rode the score bump to safety, but the wave had passed as Nora’s newer, WOWPS-ready two-minute work on the threat of leaving left the judges split down the middle. Neiel surprised the crowd as the first to bring rhyme to the crowd in a powerfully voiced poem to a girl of the street, bringing snaps from the back corners of the room. JR held score with an understated family dynamics poem, then Zeke risked a brand-new-written-today poem for his niece that had the room wiping their eyes and the judges paying out the second-highest score of the round! The end of the round brought strange surprises, as Meaghan, a usual crowd favorite, couldn’t engage the judges with her hearing loss poem, and the night’s top seed Bobby brought some of the crowd to their feet for almost hitting Junot Diaz with his car, but didn’t see any reward in the scores.

At the end of one round of poems, Mckendy was sitting pretty with a 27.5 and more than a point ahead of Zeke, who led Marshall, Simone, and Neiel in the low 26.x range. Joshua was close behind, but JR, Emily, Bobby, Nora, Manvir, and Meaghan would all have to put forth a solid effort to make the top nine cut. Fortunately, with a remarkable average 2.48 point spread from the five judges (for reference, heats 1 and 2 of the prelims showed first-round spreads of 1.58 and 2.02, respectively), and a lot of room above the highest score, the second round was still anybody’s game.

Host Tom Slavin transitioned the show seamlessly into the second round, where Emily “Snake Eyes” O’Neill had drawn first in the round to kick in the door yet again, this time with a new essay-form food-and-body-image poem. Neiel rolled out Chad: The Invisible White Boy to a receptive audience, followed by Mckendy’s new-to-the-stage rendition of Half-Life (see his link above for the text). Looking to make up lost ground, Bobby flashed back to Guitar Hero, and Joshua took a stab at corralling his father’s boundless grief. And for all of this, the judges were willing to go no higher than a 25.0, putting Emily and Bobby on the brink of likely elimination and leaving Neiel and Joshua to wring their hands for the next seven performers.

The poet to take the stage next was Manvir, taking a page from Bobby’s book and bringing up a venue favorite: his ode to pants(!) shook the judges’ generosity awake for a full one-point score bump. Had they joined Mckendy at the bar in his quiet mathed-in celebration? Whatever it was, something had shifted, and JR’s Unsent Messages to a High School Crush and Simone’s Pour One out were rewarded in kind, and capped by the second-round top score for Marshall’s poem Instructions in the Event of My Death. Zeke Russell didn’t need to best his score from the previous round, but a solid performance on the topic of Maine ruggedness earned him the second highest score of round two, and bested Marshall’s total by just enough to take the top spot of the night.

However, with only Nora and Meaghan as the last remaining poets, the slam was far from over; both poets would have to stretch to defeat Bobby and Emily, and unless the judges suddenly started handing out nines like the Cantab bartenders do whiskey, there would be only one spot left for the four to fight for. Nora came to the stage with a fresh re-write of a poem on Avarice, inspired by last year’s Erotic Poetry Night; a suddenly sober set of judges remained impassive, paying out only enough points to bring Nora up to ninth place and cement Emily and Bobby’s fates. In a final and determined effort to beat the math, Meaghan brought her poem Trauma Game to the stage, taking the mic by storm and achieving the biggest comeback in the show to defeat Nora and punch her own ticket for Finals. Hot damn!

Special thanks to all our staff who made this show possible, including host Tom Slavin, bout manager Ed Wilkinson, scorekeeper/timekeeper Kieran Collier (gratefully borrowed from the Emerson Poetry Project), and our intrepid door staff, Michael Quigg and Michael F. Gill.

Next week: our schedule returns to glorious normality with all-but-predictable Columbus brilliance from Siaara Freeman, a regular-strength open mic, and an open speed slam to close out Black History Month. Poems on poems on poems! See you there!