The Southwest Shootout poetry slam stretches all the way back to 2004. In the slam poetry world, that’s like going back to Victorian times—or more appropriately, the Wild West.
To be fair, slam is all about newness, one in a long line of permutations of the basic goals of poetry: to convey a perception of the human experience through language. Slam poetry may be a relatively young movement, but that fact is what imbues it with a sense of innovation and unorthodoxy. Rules, slam seems to say, I don’t need no stinkin’ rules.
Except, of course, for poetry slams, which are filled with rules. Slams are competitive events—a fact which no doubt has T.S. Eliot alternately spinning in his grave and wishing they would have existed back in the day so he could get a piece of Ezra Pound. There are all kinds of rules regarding length, presentation and scoring intricacies akin to cricket.
Albuquerque takes its slam seriously. Not only did Burque host the 2005 National Poetry Slam, but our team won. We were also excellent sports about it; barely any cars were set on fire.
According to Kenn Rodriguez, one of Albuquerque's slam godfathers, it was the desire to prepare for the 2005 NPS that led the organizing committee to set up the first Southwest Shootout. They “wanted to have a dry run of promoting and staging a large-scale competition before staging National Poetry Slam,” Rodriguez explains via e-mail. What happened, though, is that the Shootout became an annual event, a regional competition that prepared teams for the Nationals.
“Before Southwest Shootout,” Rodriguez says, “there was no large-scale gathering ... in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.” It’s because of the SWSO, he says, that “the region has gotten stronger ... its teams are now major players at NPS.”
The Shootout is one of four regular regionals around the country, along with the Southern Fried Slam, the Rustbelt Slam and the West Coast Regional Slam. While these competitions don’t have a direct relationship to NPS, they serve as warm-ups and opportunities for poets to meet and connect.
Albuquerque hosted the Shootout in 2007 as well and saw the LoboSlam team from UNM take home top honors just months after winning the National College Slam Championship. The Shootout is hosted in a different city each year, and when it comes to Albuquerque, the finals have are always held in the KiMo Theatre, which Rodriguez says is a big part of the character of the event. “The theater is so singular, poets can’t help but have a great experience.” He also says that poets tend to experiment more at the Shootout than at Nationals. “There’s always a performance or two that stands out as unique.”
And while racking up points and claiming bragging rights is important, Rodriguez insists it’s not the main idea. “The ultimate goal is to expose Albuquerque to the rich world of performance/slam poetry.” Though the city sees smaller events all the time, regional and national competitions provide the audience with the opportunity to experience “multiple voice performance pieces—duets, trios, quartets, even quintets.” It's more than your usual slam. "The number of voices and differing styles of writing Burqueños will hear is enormous."