Amity Island beachgoers didn't get much warning about the great white stalking the shores. The mayor ensured tourists were ignorant of the threat by covering it with false medical reports and fancy billboards. It took multiple attacks for shark hunter Quint to take to the seas with Police Chief Martin Brody and marine biologist Matt Hooper, setting up Brody's classic line in Jaws: "You're gonna need a bigger boat."
Daniel (aka Danny) Solis saw the looming National Poetry Slam of 2005 as a shark swimming circles around Albuquerque. But instead of denying the ominous creature's presence, Albuquerque embraced it. "Everywhere I went in the city, people were asking me about the National Poetry Slam," Solis says. "I couldn't even walk outside to get my mail." It was then he realized the National Poetry Slam was going to be much larger than any of the organizers had imagined.
"The only thing I could think of was the poor, misbegotten people on the boat in Jaws," he says. Nine months before slam poetry teams from around the country would convene in the Duke City for the championship, Solis told his fellow planners they, too, needed a bigger boat. And they got one, in the form of more—and larger—venues.
What transpired at the National Poetry Slam is already the stuff of legend. On the first night of nationals, every slam event was standing-room only, Solis says. So were the finals at the Kiva Auditorium where team Albuquerque earned the title of national champion with great aplomb.
The National Poetry Slam—both in Albuquerque's hosting the event and winning the title—brought much-deserved attention to the slam scene and is documented in many forms, including visual art, film and prose. But Solis, along with fellow organizers and slam poetry community members Susan McAllister, Don McIver and Mikaela Renz, thought the time had come for a look into what made the championship successful. "Us hosting the nationals coincided with 10 years of slam in Albuquerque," Solis says, and the diverse and accomplished poetry scene merited a comprehensive anthology.
The four teamed up to write and edit A Bigger Boat: The Unlikely Success of the Albuquerque Poetry Slam Scene, which was published by UNM Press on April 21. A Bigger Boat chronicles the people and happenings leading up to 2005, going back to the first slam at Jack's, now Copper Lounge. McAllister, program director at the Harwood Art Center and poetry scenester, says the book captures what has, until now, been an oral history. "There are books about slam, but they are more about capturing the work of poets and less about the history," she says. While more than 70 poets are represented, A Bigger Boat focuses on milestones throughout the 10-year journey and not just the individuals, like the Taos Poetry Circle; Poetry and Beer, a monthly slam still going today; and The Rag, a poetry publication started by Lisa Gill—a poet in practice today. "Nationals was a culmination of these 10 to 12 years of community growth," McAllister says. "We've tried to capture the dedication and the commitment and the love that people in this community have for poetry."
When it came to naming the anthology, Solis' cry for a larger vessel rang from the past. "It was kind of our little joke," McAllister says. Joke or not, it's the most fitting anecdote to encompass the sphere of Albuquerque's slam growth.