Final Update from the 2016 National Poetry Slam

It’s Saturday at the National Poetry Slam, Cantabbers, and the NPS 2016 slam team is taking a much-deserved rest after a blisteringly hot bout semi-finals bout last night; the BPS took fifth to a strong field including Houston VIP, Bull City Slam, Brooklyn Slam, and the Finals-bound House Slam.

The team went into semis feeling strong and excited to see huge turnout from all our NorthBEAST friends: Mill City Slam, Slam Free or Die, Providence Poetry Slam, the Lizard Lounge, and even the Group-Piece-Finals-bound Northampton Poetry Slam were all out in force to support the two 617 teams in the house. After a scramble for properly objective judges, the slam opened up with a three-poet, three-part group piece sacrifice making metaphor of a magic act by DC’s Busboys and Poets team. Your BPS team was holding the A, which meant Neiel Israel kicked in the door with a mic-knocking rendition of The Dick for a respectable judge-load of nines. Bull City and VIP followed in similar suit, but when House’s Ashley Davis and Oomp Will pulled a high 29 for their Simon Says group piece, then were outdone by 0.2 by Brooklyn’s Falu and Steven Willis taking the room to church, it looked like math would not be on the early teams’ side.

The high-to-low second round opened with Brooklyn following themselves; they chose a lighter group piece with Steven and McPherson, offering Batman a chance to become the Black Panther’s sidekick and scooping up another high 29. Sam Rush took the stage next to conjugate the word “girl” and squeaked in just barely under 3:10, making up the 0.2 difference and leaving both top teams tied. Scores took a dive just after with three more group pieces from Bull City, VIP, and Cantab, with your home team putting bartender Bobby Crawford and Simone Beaubien on the stage for a group piece. With all three teams a full three points behind and the judges with very little room to move up, it was looking like a good night to break out some poems for the room rather than the scores.

Meanwhile, in what was virtually shaping up to be an entirely different bout, House Slam opened the first round with Oomp’s Black Hole poem from the Grudge Match (remember that?!), a welcome solo performance in a group-piece heavy room, for the highest score of the night yet. Not to be outdone, Brooklyn played Paul Tran and McPherson with the Peacock Spider poem you may have seen at the House Slam regional this year, earning the first 30.0 of the night and putting House 0.2 behind in a very tight competition. VIP had the three-spot and brought up Jordan Simpson, who honored the space with an incredible solo piece that left the room and judges breathless, good enough to tie Oomp’s high solo score. Bull City followed with a complex two-voice piece (including recent Harvard fellow and Cantab visitor Dasan Ahanu) on birds –Jim Crow, that is. Closing out the round, Cantab send up Mckendy Fils-Aimé to perform Via Negativa in his first semi-finals appearance since 2013.

With one round left and tens raining down like the afternoon thunderstorms here in Decatur, poets and audience girded their metaphors for just five more poems. Brooklyn sent their first solo poet of the night, Crystal Valentine, to the stage, who earned a 29.8 for a missive to Rachel Dolezal and left House needing a perfect 30 to earn a tie. Second up, though was VIP, having earned an early spot in the round with their big solo, and their poem was a resonant callback to the “prestige” referenced in the sacrifice poem: strong group choreography earned them a high twenty-nine and a well-deserved round of closing applause. House selected Marshall Gillson and Ashley to return to the stage for their poem on depression and the question of child-bearing, with the temperature rising the room around their flawless performance… Flawless indeed, as the judges rewarded it with the perfect 30 that House was looking for, earning them a spot in a tiebreaker! Mathed out but still full of love for the room, Bull City honored another solo poet, Ishine, with a chance on the mic, and the judges responded with another 30.

What’s a Cantab team to do when hopelessly mathed out in an overheated room full of trauma, death, and impossibly high suspense for an impending tiebreaker? Oh, you must know: a five-person, high-energy, irrepressibly goofy group piece written by none other than Zeke Russell was just the thing to reset the space. We are sorry you were not there, Cantab, to watch a library auditorium packed to the gills and screaming HIGH SCHOOL IS BULLSHIT! HIGH SCHOOL IS BULLSHIT! HIGH SCHOOL IS BULLSHIT! with utmost glee. Get free indeed, poets: the final score might(?) have been a 27.1 after a solid 2.5 point time penalty, one we hope stands as the high-water mark for all teams to come.

But wait, you asked, wasn’t there a tie? There was indeed: after wiping the tears and sweat from our faces, the audience settled down to watch the coin flip: Brooklyn chose the 2-spot, which meant masterful coach Porsha Olayiwola sent Ashley Davis to the stage with a poem about her grandmother and where black women find home. Brooklyn’s Mo Browne also selected a solo poet for the tiebreaker, sending Paul Tran back to the stage with a heart-wrenching personal story. The last moments of suspense gave way to riotous NorthBEAST celebration as the host read judge preferences for House… House… House [ROOMSPLOSION!], House and Brooklyn! The 2015 champs earned a 4-1 ride to Finals on Saturday night as the room cheered themselves hoarse.

Cantabbers, it’s been a great show for us at NPS, and we’re proud to say we’ve finished in the top 20 teams for you this year. Please join us in offering congratulations to the House Slam on a second trip to Finals, and to the Northampton Poetry Slam, who skyrocketed to a fourth-place finish at the Group Piece Finals later that night. What a year! We’ll be home to see you (and Wednesday’s feature Timothy DuWhite, who shook your SlamMaster’s hand not twenty minutes ago) in just a few short days.