Slam poets shoot each other with words
Poets from around the country will take aim and fire at one another, turning Albuquerque into an O.K. Corral of lyricism. The 2011 Southwest Shootout features wordsmiths from Louisiana, Colorado, Texas and, of course, New Mexico performing their particular flavor of poetry. Presented by ABQSlams, the format is highly interactive: Audience members picked at the top of the night acts as judges, who rate the poets after every delivery. The crowds are usually encouraged to be vocal about how they feel, reacting to performers, hosts and even the scores themselves.
Sixteen teams are competing in this year’s shootout, says co-producer Eric Bodwell, and each gets four chances at the mic. Everyone has to participate, but poems can be performed solo or by a group. The teams square off round-robin style, then their points are tallied.
Co-producer Don McIver says Shootout teams are usually chosen by their hometown slam communities, using it as a sort of warm-up for the National Poetry Slam. A win here doesn’t affect your chances at nationals, though McIver says teams that win do get a trip to “Glory Town.” They also get cash prizes.
The poets often take more risks in these rounds, Bodwell says, and there are numerous tricks to use when competing in haiku that don't apply to slam.
McIver won’t bias audiences by citing a favorite team for us, but he makes a point to mention that Albuquerque poets are known for dynamic group-work. Bodwell, on the other hand, says he’s keeping an eye on a first-year entry from Wichita. Newbies don’t have the same preconceptions that veteran slam teams might, he says, and could make interesting, fresh choices.
Also generating anything-can-happen energy are two pickup teams. These are pieced together with poets who come from different cities, don’t regularly work together or didn’t make it onto other teams. This year there are some serious veterans on both, such as Texas poet Joaquin Zihuatanejo (see “Southwest Guest,” below). Bodwell calls the pickup teams a “colossal barrier” to the other poets winning and says anyone could take top place.
A special duel in the shootout is the Haiku Deathmatch, where many poets go in but only one comes out. The poets often take more risks in these rounds, Bodwell says, and there are numerous tricks to use when competing in haiku that don't apply to slam. McIver says a lot of the haikus are funny. In fact, it’s his favorite show to watch. Despite the “Deathmatch” title, it’s all in good, competitive fun. Bodwell captures the esprit de corps: “Slam is the game we play when we get together.”