is the grass any bluer...

is the grass any bluer...
on the other side?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gypsies, Slams and Thieves

Gypsy Poetry Slam, tonight's kickoff event for the 30th Women Writers Conference will be at Victorian Square, when Kentucky's women poets go head to head with poets from across the country in the spoken word showcase known as a poetry slam.

Please note: No poets will be harmed in the making of this event.

Open mic begins @ 6:30.

Special presentation from writers in Donna Ison's workshop "Reclaiming Woman" @ 7

Rachel McKibbens feature performances @ 7:30 and 8:15

Slam Round I starts @ 7:45

Slam Round II starts @ 8:30
You can find my story in print in this week's Ace Weekly, but here's the raw version:

“The icon of a gypsy can be very feminine and maybe a little taboo. All of them work here with these poets, according to Bianca Spriggs, creator of Gypsy Poetry Slam, the event which will kickoff this week’s Women’s Writer Conference (“WWC”).

Spriggs is a former member of the Friends Board for the WWC, but now focuses on programming and organizing the Gypsy Poetry Slam. “I have been affiliated since 2005 where I was nominated by Affrilachian Poet, Amanda Johnston, who was Friends Board member at the time and was about to move to Texas. She submitted my name to join the Board. This was when Rebecca Howell was the director. In 2007, the Gypsy Slam was not hosted by the WWC, but by the Until the Violence Stops: KY initiative. It rejoined the WWC last year. I was a member of the Board up until this past year. I now just exclusively organize the slam and am a committee member for the Sonia Sanchez Lecture Series. This is the Slam's fourth year. We have hosted women from all across the country and features who have scrolls of accolades after their names, for instance our first feature, Patricia Smith, who was nominated for a National Book Award this year and winner of the National Poetry Slam multiple times and last year's Samantha Thornhill who teaches creative writing at Julliard and has been published by Scholastic. So our features are high caliber. The audience will get a dose of something they don't get a chance to see very often in Lexington. And it's free!”
Spriggs emphasizes that the feature writer, Rachel McKibbens' set will be broken up into two performances as opposed to one long thirty minute haul. “Also, for the actual Slam, there will be two full rounds as opposed to elimination rounds, so each poet will get a chance to read twice. We are also not offering a monetary prize. In years past, we paid the winning poet $500. In the spirit of sisterhood and the 30th anniversary of the WWC, we are offering the winner of the GS a gift basket of books from every author presenting in the conference. In my opinion, it's the type of gift that keeps on giving. Another dissimilarity is that in lieu of the belly dancers we usually have to open the show, Donna Ison led a workshop called "Reclaiming Woman" in August, and those workshop members will have the opportunity to present their work after the open mic.”
As one might suspect, this event has not been without its humorous moments. “The funniest thing, I think it was a couple of years ago when during Christa Bell's feature. She's a very fearless poet and much of her work flirts with the (at-first-glance) a bit scandalous. At one point, she recited a litany she'd collected in her travels of various nicknames bestowed upon a woman's anatomy. It went on for like seven minutes. It was just kind of hilarious to watch passersby in the Victorian Square atrium sort of stop midstep once they realized what they were hearing. That's kind of the draw though.” Spriggs says she makes a point “to book features who are going to challenge our level of bravery as listeners/readers.”
Because the Gypsy Slam is only for women poets (men may read at the open mic), women's issues are pretty much the order of the day. This year, as in years past, you can expect to hear material about the politics and psychology of gender, sexuality, romantic and familial relationships, dealing with domestic abuse, body parts, and so on. I will say that the language and content is typically PG-13 to R rated so people wanting to bring their kids should be aware that the poets will not be censoring their material. This is about giving women permission to freely express themselves in a space that often merits their conformity.”
Before Spriggs became involved with WWC, “there was an all gender poetry slam attached to the conference in 2003 and then an all women's poetry slam attached to the conference in 2004. It was called the Motto Slam (which another Affrilachian Poet and I created for UK's Langston Hughes festival and I named it after his poem "Motto.") -- no one knew where the name came from except for me, oddly enough. I thought it was kinda strange they hadn't changed it. I created the name 'Gypsy Poetry Slam' to reflect the nickname that traveling poets have, which is the 'gypsy poet.' And the icon of a gypsy can be very feminine and maybe a little taboo. All of them work here with these poets.”

Also, there will be t-shirts available for purchase at the Slam. They're beautiful, designed by Vaughan Fielder going for $12; audiences can also look forward to purchasing products from the competing poets at the slam as well.

I asked Spriggs if the Gypsy Poetry Slam would be similar to those held back in the day at Common Grounds, and hosted by the popular duo Nick and Dave. “Oh Nick and Dave! Those guys used to run the slam scene here for quite awhile!” While she did not deny the set up was akin to theirs, she did offer up a good definition:

"First time at a poetry slam? Expecting to see people wearing all black and berets throwing books of poetry at one another across the room? Then read this:

In 1981 at the Green Mill bar in Chicago, Marc Smith pioneered the concept of bringing poetry back to the people and wresting it away from the classroom and snobs. Poetry should be accessible for the lay person as well as the academically uninitiated. It should engage, entertain, and have the ability to take center stage. And so the poetry slam: a competition of performance poetry with the incentive of a prize: originally a single dollar or a pack of Twinkies, was born. Since then, spoken word has blossomed into a true art form boasting everything from a feature-length film and documentaries, to an annual national slam and featured artists performing on HBO's Def Poetry Jam.

The criteria: Slam exists in two formats: the elimination round and the double round. Our Gypsy Slam is a double round which allows every poet to go twice and the top scoring poet of both rounds wins. Poems should be 3:00 long with a 30 second grace period. Every second over deducts a tenth of a point from the score for that poem.

No props, musical instruments, or costumes. Memorization is okay and even encouraged to elicit a passionate performance.

Five judges are selected from crowd members (that means this could really go any way. For the purposes of the Gypsy Slam, one of the judges has been pre-selected, that is, our celebrity feature for the evening).  The judges are to judge half on content and half on performance ability out of a score of 10. Decimal points are encouraged to prevent a tie. The highest and lowest scores are dropped. The perfect score is a 30.

A 'sacrificial poet' is asked to go first to demonstrate to the audience what is to come and to break the ice.

The poetry slam is nothing without crowd participation. Favoritism and jeering are highly encouraged at judges scoring. The crowd is the poet's best ally. The crowd should do the best to sway the judges. The judges should do their best not to be swayed by the audience."

Sunny Montgomery winner of Ace Weekly's Worst Summer Job essay competition is a little tentative about entering the Gypsy Slam. “I will be competing in the gypsy poetry slam competition, but honestly, I have never even been to the gypsy poetry competition, and I heard about it this year through my good friends Donna Ison and Renee Rigdon who were going to be competing. Initially, I was supposed to be part of the opening act -- Reclamation of Women, a reading that Donna put together. I had been workshopping with her on that among several other really talented ladies and I was supposed to have my finished piece emailed to her by last Thursday and then Bianca Spriggs sent me an email asking if I'd do the competition...which the word 'competition' totally freaks me out, but who I am to turn that down? I was totally honored that someone even considered that I might be on the same level with local writers like Donna, Renee and Bianca. At very least, doing the competition gets me out of the opening act and I was having serious blockage on and was never going to be able to meet deadline."
Montgomery says, she is "seriously hoping that they don't actually announce our scoring at the end of each round because I am feeling pretty green right now. And as long as there isn't actually a 'last place' I think I'll be okay. Well, It'll be a great new expierence and I suppose as the writer I am right now, that is really all I'm out for and I can't wait to meet all the other women from across the country that will be competing. Also, I am seriously urging every person I know to come, since they will be picking audience memebers to judge."

Donna attended the conference three years ago and says she was "totally in awe of the women there and the talent that had gathered here in Kentucky. I am honored and humbled to be a part of this year's conference. This year I am competing in the Gypsy Slam--which I am totally psyched about, if also a bit intimidated, since I am not certain how slamtastic I am. But, I am determined to represent. In addition, I hosted the "Reclaiming Woman" writing workshops and have developed a Reader's Theatre piece of the same name that will showcase nine amazing women writers from Central Kentucky. It will kick off the Gypsy Slam event. And, of course, 'The Miracle of Myrtle: Saint Gone Wild' will be available at the conference."
According to Ison, "This conference offers attendees the unique opportunity to meet writers from all walks of life who craft in all types of genres. Beyond the fascinating lectures, readings, and workshops, the sheer camaraderie of being alongside so many dedicated authors and teachers and students makes it well worth the while."

Kim Thomas lives and works in downtown Lexington,
is a former writer for The Thoroughbred Record, member of the Chancel Choir, and a Commissioned Stephen Minister.

Follow KimmyVille on Twitter and here on Blogspot

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all this info! I went to the event, but I wasn't aware of half of this. haha.