WWII Club to host Poetry Slam national qualifier Saturday

  • A microphone. —Pexels

Staff Writer
Published: 2/10/2018 12:06:55 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Teams of poets from across New England are converging on a Northampton bar this weekend to battle it out in a regional poetry slam with one goal in mind — to compete on a national stage.

Eight teams will meet at the World War II Club, The Deuce, on Saturday night to compete in the “NorthBeast” Regional Poetry Slam and a chance to advance to the 2018 National Poetry Slam competition in Chicago this August.

Northampton resident Tara Jean Bernier, 40, is a member of the Northampton Poetry team and serves as the slam master for the New England region, organizing regional competitions and facilitating poetry slams. After walking into an open mic night five years ago, Bernier said she never left the scene and started organizing competitions in 2013.

“In a time when publications like the New York Times, the New Yorker or other poetry magazines will tell you poetry is dead, poetry is very much alive and part of our culture and continues to be,” Bernier said. “It’s a way to see how poetry is very much a part of our community here.”

Eight teams totaling 32 poets will compete on Saturday night: Northampton Poetry, House Slam, Boston Poetry Slam, Providence Poetry Slam, Nitty Gritty Poetry Slam, White Plains Library Slam, Slam Free or Die and Pulp Slam.

On Friday, Northampton Poetry hosted a preliminary Indie Slam for individuals to compete for the unofficial title of NorthBeast Slam Champion. They choose five members from the audience to serve as judges, scoring each performance on a scale of zero to 10.

“We’d love a judge whose never seen a poetry slam before because it’s just for fun,” Bernier said. “It’s a gut feeling.”

This is the second year The Deuce has hosted the regional competition. On Tuesdays, Northampton Poetry showcases poets and has an open mic, with the third Tuesday always reserved for a poetry slam. Winning a monthly poetry slam qualifies an individual to compete in the April semifinals that determine who will make the team.

“The poetry scene in Northampton is really lively,” Bernier said. “There are several readings of different kinds of poetry all over Northampton.”

Poets Ewan Hill and Catherine Weiss co-founded another local poetry slam group, Pulp Slam. They follow a model of “radical accessibility,” making sure their chosen venue — the Roost — is wheelchair accessible, welcoming of all ages and incomes, and a safe space for poets of all identities. They meet every first and third Friday of the month.

“I love the slam poetry community, because it’s such a community,” Hill said.

For many, the regular poetry slams offer some much-needed catharsis from difficult experiences that are hard to talk about.

“These nights give a voice to people who have important things to say and don’t have any other way to share it,” Veda Leone, 30, said. “If it wasn’t for Northampton Poetry I wouldn’t be where I am today in terms of my recovery.”

Robbie Dunning, 28, is a current member of Pulp Slam who in the past attended the National Poetry Slam competition for three years with Northampton Poetry. They described the close-knit culture of slam poets touring and staying at different organizers’ homes, sleeping on floors, couches, or whatever surface they can find in order to share their work.

“The way NoHo is unique is because it’s not a big city, but it has more than one slam,” Dunning said.

Jamila Gore, 37, has been attending poetry slams with Northampton Poetry since they first started meeting at the Hinge five years ago. She finds that personal poems register best with audiences, but wants to use her poetry for political commentary too.

“People just want to support you,” Gore said. “You get so much appreciation from the audience and people are always cheering for you.”

Poetry Slam Inc. is the governing organization that puts on semifinal, state, regional and national poetry slam competitions. The national competition is open to participants from the U.S., Canada and, occasionally, Europe and Australia. Known for producing talented poets, performers and writers, the Northeast U.S. region earned the nickname “NorthBeast,” coined by the Providence youth team in 2008.

Teams consist of four to five members, pay membership fees and must come from a certified Poetry Slam venue. Competitions begin with each team competing in two preliminary bouts consisting of four rounds each. Team members can compete individually or in groups, but a different primary author must be present each round.

Earlier this year, another regional qualifying poetry slam took place in Cambridge featuring three teams from Massachusetts, according to Bernier.

Saturday’s regional qualifying competition starts at 7 p.m. at The Deuce. Doors open at 6 p.m. and admission is $5.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com

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