Alibi V.15 No.13 • March 30-April 5, 2006 

Poetry News

Brave New Voices

The Youth Slam Team will bring it on at the National Youth Poetry Slam Festival this month

Members of a talented Albuquerque team will travel to New York City this month to perform at the Brave New Voices Poetry Slam Festival.
Members of a talented Albuquerque team will travel to New York City this month to perform at the Brave New Voices Poetry Slam Festival.
Wes Naman

Here's a tip for ya: Poetry is the next hot commodity out of Albuquerque. If there were a Dow Jones of poetry slam, Albuquerque's stock would be as hot as Microsoft's after Windows 98.

The Albuquerque Slam Team won the title of national champs at the finals last August here in the Duke City, and brought our hometown poets some well-deserved attention. (See “Grand Master Slam,” this page.) Now, it's time for Albuquerque's Youth Slam Team to rise up through the national ranks.

They'll be competing at the National Youth Poetry Slam Festival, also called Brave New Voices, in New York City, April 25-30. The team was selected at a three-round slam competition held during the Revolutions International Theatre Festival in January.

The top five slammers made the youth team, and a few others were added as alternates. Representing Burque at this year's Brave New Voices will be Esme Vaandrager, Lanelle Storey, Wayne Owens, Joe Romero, Josh Pertil, Viki Bolland, Samantha Farrell and Kipp Roskom. The team is coached by national championship team members Kenn Rodriguez, Cuffee and Carlos Contreras.

Esme, who is a senior at Albuquerque High School, is also a member of the city slam team that won at the nationals. Unfortunately, she was unable to participate in the competition itself because of age restrictions. She says the term “adult team” is a misnomer and that the city team is comprised of slammers of all ages, but during the finals, all participants had to be at least 18 for insurance purposes. The youth slam team members must be between the ages of 13 and 19.

"I love going to Brave New Voices," Esme says. "It's a big, inspiring thing. It's amazing to see a huge auditorium full of teenagers going crazy over poetry. It kind of gives you a new-found confidence and faith and amazement in our youth."

Kipp is a sophomore from Robert F. Kennedy Charter High School and one of the youngest members of the team. Although he is only an alternate on the team, he says he's excited about attending a national event. "The people I'm on the team with, they're legends. I feel like I'm pretty new at this, and it's really intense," he says.

The team has been practicing hard to prepare for this event. Lanelle, a senior at Eldorado High School, says their group pieces are especially strong and from now until the competition, it's all about polishing their work. She says the youth team is lucky to have members of the national championship team as their coaches. "Hopefully, we'll be national champions ourselves," she says.

They aren't in New York City yet, and the team has been doing what they can to raise funds to cover transportation costs. To help support the youth team, coach Carlos Contreras has a CD compilation of local poets for sale on his website,, and will soon have some Robert F. Kennedy Charter High School slam team jerseys available. He says they might host another benefit event before they go, so check out the Albuquerque slam poetry website,, for updated information and local poetry events.

Grand Master Slam

Marisa Demarco

Although New Mexico rarely wins national stuff, our team did win the National Poetry Slam. Right here in town. Last year. And it was rad.

Maybe that's why this year around the 505 there's such a passion for slam. Don McIver, Albuquerque's registered slam master, says 85 different poets slammed during the season, which is unheard of in this town. There were four slams a month instead of three. The 2006 Grand Slam on Saturday, April 1, at the Outpost Performance Space, he says, is going to be intense.

That's not unusual, though. Ten poets walk in that night, and four emerge as the Duke City's next poetry crew. According to McIver, there's a lot of pressure to ensure that the poets competing in the final round are sure they can go to Austin, Texas, where the nationals are being held this year. They'll be the defending champions, after all.

"We really want to hit the ground running once the team is picked," he says.

Being part of the team is about more than national competition, which is why the Slam Council didn't set up an age limit. In 2005, Esme Vaandrager, a member of the Duke City slam team, wasn't allowed to compete because she was under 18. “They're the face of slam in Albuquerque the whole year,” McIver says. “And that's not an age thing.”

The Grand Slam competition to determine the members of the 2006 Albuquerque Poetry Slam team will occur Saturday, April 1, at the Outpost Performance Space (210 Yale SE). $10 general, $8 Outpost members. 7:30 p.m. 268-0044.