By Steven Robert Allen
After a couple of grueling hours in the ring, Tony Santiago emerged as the city poetry slam champion for the second year in a row. The final Grand Slam contest took place on Saturday, May 1, in front of a sold out audience at the Outpost Performance Space. The contest determined not only the reigning champ, but also the additional four members of the Albuquerque team who will compete at the National Poetry Slam in St. Louis in August.
"Tony is a seasoned performer," says Kenn Rodriguez, veteran poetry slammer and the most likely coach for Albuquerque's 2004 team. "I would say that the comedy aspect of Tony's work helped, but his overall stage presence probably got him the championship. He has great performance instincts."
The other four poets who made it onto the team are Don McIver, Jazz, Cuffee and Esmé. (Many poets, apparently, prefer poetic mono-names.) Since Esmé is only 16 years old, she won't be allowed to compete in St. Louis, so Libby Kelly will perform in her place. Damien Flores will serve as alternate.
Danny Solis, another veteran of the Albuquerque poetry scene, says that although the 2004 team is relatively inexperienced, they should do well for themselves in St. Louis. "This seems like a group that's going to work hard," he says, "and sometimes working hard means even more than talent. Except for Don, I don't think one of them is over 30. That's great for the future of the Albuquerque slam scene."
Rodriguez seems particularly enthusiastic about the team's prospects. "Even though they don't have a lot of experience," he says, "everyone who made it is really energetic and was gunning to make the team."
He also notes that Albuquerque has a pool of veteran slammers at its disposal that should help the team navigate the complex, bitterly competitive National Poetry Slam contest in August. "We've got experience in the coaching ranks," Rodriguez says, "so the rest of us behind the scenes should be able to help the team avoid some of the pitfalls that a rookie team can sometimes stumble over."
This will be particularly important this year because the team plans to do more performances involving multiple poets in St. Louis than they have in past competitions. Over the coming months, they'll be engaging in various creative maneuvers to accumulate the cash necessary for the journey to the Nationals. Do your part to support them. Check the team's website at www.abqpoetryslam.org for upcoming performances and fundraisers.