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The 2002 National Poetry Slam

Bay Area Poets Head to Minneapolis

10:30 pm. Café Royale, San Francisco ... a petite Korean American woman glides to the front of the room. Face serene, she grasps the waiting microphone ... moments later, she erupts, voice brimming with the lives of the women of Chejudoh, an island off the coast of Korea.

The packed room cheers as judges hold up scores for Ishle Yi Park, member of the 2002 Oakland Slam Team.

We are in the final rounds of the Battle of the Bay, a heated event that pits Bay Area slam teams against one another, giving poets who will be competing in the National Poetry Slam the chance to test out their skills for a local crowd. It's also an opportunity to raise money for the trip to Minneapolis, where 54 teams from all over North America and Europe will converge for five days of poetic competition in the annual event.

Slam as an art form has become increasingly popular, as evidenced by the success of such shows as Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam, and the National Poetry Slam is the Olympics of poetry. Slam was started in 1986 in Chicago as a way to involve the audience in the poetry being performed onstage. As slam spread, the National Poetry Slam became a tournament to which each city sent four poets to compete for the city's shame or fame. Each city hosts poetic bouts throughout the year, culminating in a final slam to determine which four poets will represent the city.

From August 13th through August 17th, Minneapolis will host an individual, as well as a team, competition. There are also additional events showcasing specific genres of poets or quirky lyrical battles that in the past have ranged from haiku slams to prop slams (in typical slam competition, the use of props is not allowed).

This year's competition to secure a spot on one of the Bay area teams was fierce as the area, renown for being an epicenter for the poetic arts, has a plethora of talent. The Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose slam teams also have the difficult task of representing one of the most diverse areas of the country.

The Oakland team reflects this diversity. Along with Ishle Yi Park, there is Meliza Banales, the 2002 Oakland Slam Champion and the first Latina to win a Bay Area slam championship. In an art form dominated by younger artists, Mack Dennis stands out as a seasoned veteran of the poetic form. Souls Journey, a newcomer to the slam scene and a crowd favorite, rounds out the team.

Team San Francisco boasts of a veteran team, known as the one to beat, largely because of team members Beau Sia and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, known also Second Sundays, surprised many when he competed this year for the team he once helped coach. Also on the team are two powerful female slam poetesses -- Emily Kagan and Nazelah Jamison, the host of San Francisco's Strictly Slam.

The Berzekeley team is heavy on the male energy with Rupert, Jamie Kennedy and Geoff Trenchard. For those scared to go up on stage, Rupert is a good example of someone who has overcome his fear of getting onstage and is now a well-known Bay area performer. Karen Ladson, the female of the team, is well aware of the lack of presence of female slammers, co-founding She-Slam, a women's poetry collective whose mission is to nurture newer writers.

Representing San Jose, Filipino American poet Jason Bayani's funny pieces about mix-tapes and getting love advice from Bobby Brown are always a crowd-pleaser. Cheryl Maddalena has the distinction of being the only pregnant slammer. Also on the San Jose team is Amy White and Season.

With this much talent going to Minneapolis, Bay area poet fanatics can be assured that their voices will be among those heard at Nationals. All four slam teams will participate in bouts for the firs two days, with semi-finals August 16 and finals August 17.

The 2002 National Poetry Slam
Minneapolis, MN
August 13 - 17, 2002