For more than a decade, Kenn Rodriguez and the other members of ABQ Slams have enticed youth to give poetry a try.
Rodriguez says Albuquerque’s premier slam poetry organization visits elementary, middle and high schools to let young people know poetry is alive. “It’s not this dead thing that you read out of books,” Rodriguez says. “It’s something that’s going on right now and it’s relevant.”
Many students bought into the message. Some have matured into verse spitters with skills sharp enough to earn a shot at making Albuquerque’s national team. “It’s great to see youth at the top of the standings,” Rodriguez says. “The next generation of poets who are all under 22 are definitely coming up.”
The ABQ Grand Slam will determine who earns the right to represent Albuquerque at the National Poetry Slam in West Palm Beach, Fla. Four poets will be chosen from a pool of 10 finalists. Those in the running have earned the most points during the more than 20 “slam-offs” since September.
One way or another, Rodriguez says, this year’s team will be one of the most diverse squads in ABQ Slams’ history. The finalists’ ethnicities, differing styles and the high proportion of female slammers means the Albuquerque team will likely look like a cultural patchwork. “It’s the kind of team that could really change the perception of what an Albuquerque poetry slam looks like and sounds like,” Rodriguez says.
In August, the scene will shift to the Sunshine State and the national championship. Rodriguez says West Palm Beach is better known for its nightlife than its arts and literature, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a vibrant scene below the surface. “ 'CSI: Miami' isn’t going to show poetry meetings, they’re going to show clubs,” Rodriguez says. “Maybe Miami will be the next big literary hot spot after this.”
In 2005, the Albuquerque national team took home first place. The year after, they made it to the semifinals. More recently, success has been harder to foster, but Rodriguez says there’s a definite chance this year could be different. Whatever the result, Rodriguez says the Burque squad won’t get caught up in South Florida's party atmosphere. “I don’t anticipate it being a distraction at all.” In fact, Rodriguez says staying focused is part of his team’s reputation. “We don’t party until we’re done.”