The Blow by Blow
After a brief Open Mic(!) and a high energy feature in K-Swift and the Project (Jeez, now everything I write sounds like show reviews), we jumped into the Semi-Final Slam. Pretty nervous the whole night and wasn’t really speaking to anybody. Just bouncing all around the room, not really giving myself a chance to stay centered.
Guy announces the Slam and brings us all on stage. Still feeling uneasy. Taylor Mali is the Sacrificial and I am afraid it’s going to turn into a 10 fest. To my surprise, Taylor gets a 25.9 and now, it’s on. Sabrina starts with her father poem and gets little love from the judges. Dawn Saylor is next and hits a political piece that the judges (but not the crowd) rally behind. My turn, hit the Salsa poem. As per Roger’s suggestions, I lengthen the pause between the lines and become much more expressive in voice and face for the piece. Easily, the best Slam performance of the Salsa poem. The judges are still tight in their scores and I am ahead of Sabrina but a bit behind Dawn. Roger rocks out with “Song for Trent Lott,” and establishes a new score high ground as all but one of the judges score him above 9.5. Omar takes advantage at the high that Rog creates and rips put with a humorous political poem that does exactly what it should—Gives the crowd something to laugh with, establishing Omar as his own poet while still making the strong social statement the crowd wants to hear.
After one round, I am still in the mix and look to stick with my game plan. Rog starts out the next round with his father poem. The judges are not feeling him now that he is not the voice of their conscious. Omar rocks out his ‘Gigolo Serenade’ to an awesome response on a poem that just recently entered his repertoire. I go to get a cigarette to ease the nerves. Dawn returns and maintains her ground with a strong narrative. Here we go again, the Ceviche poem comes out and my nervousness emerges. Been a while since I’ve shook onstage and there is nothing I can do. Voice is trembling as well. All of this shakes out halfway through but the judges are not feeling me anymore. I slip lower in the scores. Sabrina is also facing the uphill climb as she drops her sister poem.
Round Three, I am up against the ropes. If I can’t make up ground now, it’s over mathematically. Rog, adjusting from his previous performance, delivers the ‘overtly political poem’ and gets a perfect 30. The crowd is feeling all the social commentary. Unfortunately, I don’t have any. Omar returns with the “Secret Language of Fucking” and emotionally loses it onstage while keeping the poem together. The shit we put ourselves through. Dawn’s going up, I lose faith in my Canto poem and pull in the bag, literally, for Capicu, which I was saving for the last round. I have a few different versions and I have been getting all kinds of weird feedback as to which is the best version. I go with the original, hit a shot of whiskey, and go to the stage. Normally, page reading is a big no-no but Omar has been doing it for some of his pieces and it hasn’t hurt him none. While I nail the Capicu yell, it is not enough and my poor page reading sinks me down deep. Sabrina, back on deck, as some yahoos try to come in and start laughing at the door when confronted with the sight of a poetry Slam. I rush them out quickly and hope it doesn’t throw Sabrina’s energy off. Fish joins me in the stairwell and we start cracking some jokes. “Punch me in the eye!” I joke, “It may get me some sympathy points and I’ll do a poem about defending 13!” “You don’t need that. You’re doing Fine” “I’m out of the running,” I say. He assures me that it’s still possible for me to make third. I laugh and already start thinking about next year.
Final Round. The judges have just about made up their mind. All you need to do is stay the course and you are fine. Another situation develops in the stairwell. Can’t let the crowd know what’s going. New Yorkers are nosy fucks and need to be in the mix for everything. We initiate some quick crowd control and back to the mix. Rog drops a whimsical poem from his chapbook (I wonder if he read it off page?) Little matter, he is way ahead and not looking back. I am still in the stairway as Omar hits a classic with his Goth poem & I totally miss Dawn’s last poem. Strong performances insure their placing. Sabrina finishes up strong but her early low score held her back the whole night. Last chance, Guy tells me I should actually be in the four slot and can tie for third if I bust out a 29.8. Sure, why not? Anything can happen, right? And then here it comes, I am the last poet of the night, nothing to lose and I reach so fucking deep and come out strong. I drop a brand new, more conversational, lighter Spanish, version of Leticia. I flirt, smile, scream, get somber and soft. Maybe it’s the emotion of the night. Making believe that I am OK with losing when I’m not. Could be that I don’t want to go out like a punk. Who cares? Two rounds too late with the poem that I thought wouldn’t do it, I win the judges over and get high nines across.
And there you have it… the results of the first Semi-Finals… Roger, Omar and Dawn advance to the Finals as Sabrina and I bow out gracefully.
Much compliments from the crowd the whole night and I made a few new fans. “I really loved that Ceviche poem.” “I felt that dancing poem.” “That last piece was so pretty.” Kinda hard to smile at that stuff especially when it’s a judge that wasn’t rewarding you scorewise saying it. Jayme comes up to me and remarks on the emotion I put into Leticia. “Yeah, I need Nazdak’s video. I have no idea exactly what I did.” I’ve heard about that back against the wall feeling and how the poem kinda takes over and you don’t really have any control. It’s a weird fuckin’ place to be. Jayme gives me a congratulations hug and I start wondering if I can ever do that poem that exact way ever again. The whole emotion of the evening starts coming out and for the first time, I think I may lose it. Still thinking of that place.
“Don’t want to hear no negative shit in your journal tomorrow, aight?” Guy tells me at the end of the night and he’s right. I came in dead last, at least I think I did, but that doesn’t really matter. Except for one poem, the crowd saw me at my best last night. I can run with the pack and deliver. Not much more to say than that.