The Big One
The Grand Slam Poetry Finals at the National Hispanic Cultural Center
By Steven Robert Allen
The Albuquerque poetry scene has come a long way in a very short time. Ground zero was the 2005 National Poetry Slam Championship, which people are still talking about two years later. Held in Albuquerque, the hugely successful four-day event brought a ton of attention to local poetic talents, partly because Albuquerque took home the team title, the first host team to do so since 1992.
The city came out in droves to take part in the spectacle of it all—with 2,500 people packing the Kiva Auditorium for the finale—and the aftereffects have been quite positive. Albuquerque has had a thriving underground poetry scene for years. During the National Poetry Slam, it finally moved into the mainstream.
Poetry organizers are hoping they can capitalize on their success this weekend, when the Grand Slam Finals will be held at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The competition will determine the members of the 2007 Albuquerque Slam Team, which will represent our city in Austin during this year's National Championship.
“For the past six years, we've held the finals at the Outpost,” says poet Maresa Thompson, who is cohosting the event. “It's a great space, and we were lucky to have it, but we've sold out three or four years in a row. You know, Albuquerque's a last-minute town. People would get to the event right before the show, then get angry because we were sold out.”
Lee Francis, a member of Albuquerque's 2006 Slam Team, will serve as bout manager for the evening. That means he's responsible for organizing the judges and hosts, making sure poets know when they're supposed to go on and generally keeping the trains running on time so it's a smooth and enjoyable event for the audience. (I suppose if anything really bad happens this time around, he's the guy to blame.)
“The Outpost actually told us we needed to find a bigger venue,” Francis says, adding that he believes the National Hispanic Cultural Center is the perfect choice. The Outpost seats around 250 while the center's largest auditorium can fit closer to 700 people. So they've got a lot more breathing room this time around. They need it, because interest and anticipation from the community at large is higher than ever.
“We're honored to have this at the National Hispanic Cultural Center,” says Thompson. “It's one of the premier performing arts venues in the state.”
In terms of the competition, here's where we're at: A series of semifinals has narrowed the field of competing poets down to 12. Each of these poets will get to read a poem in two separate rounds, after which a first cut will shave the competition down to eight, and a second cut will determine the final four (plus an alternate) who get sent to Austin. A DJ will perform throughout the evening to fill up the spaces between poems.
A portion of proceeds from the event will help fund the trip to Austin. As always, a series of fundraising performances throughout the summer will also help build up the necessary pool for the journey.
Even if you never witness another poetry event all year long, you should come see this one. It's the mother of all of Albuquerque's many yearly poetry happenings. Tensions are high. A lot is at stake. One way or the other, it's going to be quite a show.
The Albuquerque poetry scene has come a long occurs Saturday, April 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. $8 general, $5 students. For details, call 767-9941 or go to www.abqslams.org.
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