poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

LITERARY ORGANIZATIONS ISSUE

DC Slam History

by Regie Cabico

 

In 1993, I won the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam. I was the first openly gay and theatrical poet performing in a mostly Lower East Side hetero macho crowd, belting angry poems amidst the literary bohemians. The slam offered me and my descendants the democratic power to spread our gospel truths, political passions and multiple identities to an underground network of bars, cafes and basements. If I did not discover the poetry slam at that time, I would have been a lawyer or a massage therapist.

In 2006, I returned to my home town of Washington, DC to be artistic director of Sol & Soul (consequently adopting the DC Youth Poetry Slam Team). I arrived to a rich, poetic spoken word explosion and a literary community that was passionate, intimate and superbly supportive. Preserving the art of the poetry slam and its history is integral to me, especially since DC has entered a fourth wave in its poetry slam history. Open Mic culture is ephemeral. There are few documented chapbooks, anthologies, videos, and sometimes venues where poets gather disappear overnight.

Washington, DC has made an impact on The National Poetry Slam. During the First Wave of the DC Slam, DC finished in the top eight, overall. In 1994, DC placed in the Top Four and in 1995, DC finished eighth. I consider all the poets who participated during 1993-1995 the pioneers of the genre—all of whom share an outrageous sense of humor, sarcasm, and big personalities. I met Jeffery McDaniel and Jose Padua as I was on tour with Lollapalooza in 1994 and was in awe of DC’s performance at the 5th National Poetry Slam in Asheville, NC. I remember McDaniel ripping his shirt, DJ Renegade delivering poems on his knees and Silvana Straw making weird noises like a robot. Renegade and I were finalists in the individual competition. I represented Huntington, Long Island. The DC team made several New York appearances at the Nuyorican Poets Café and I have been fans of their work ever since. Most of the poets of the first wave are still active.

The Second Wave of Slam comes when, after almost four years of no slam, DJ Renegade, Gayle Danley and Patrick Washington formed a team and go to Nationals. Danley previously won the Individual Competition, representing Atlanta, beating Renegade and me in the 1994 Individual Bout. That year Nicki Miller and Tobey became Slam masters, starting a new wave of slam that would bring Baltimore into the DC slam scene. Members of the 2000 team toured the country in Slam America. I befriended the wonderful Denise Johnson when she read at NYC’s Club Nells and slammed against Beau Sia and won! This period of slam brings a larger racial and sexual identity diversity to the mix. Sonya Renee became DC/Baltimore's first and only representative to be named NPS individual champion, and in 2006 (Austin), DC/Baltimore got its last team so far onto a national finals stage, ranking fourth overall.

The Third Wave came after the loss of Teaism as a venue. Nomadic hopping of venues made it challenging, and only the hardcore veteran slam poets worked together to keep it going. The poets from 2005-2008 have had more years of national exposure than any other team and carried the DC slam team until it separated from Baltimore in 2008 when Baltimore brought its own team to the Nationals. This is when I came to DC and I did not want to see DC Slam culture die out, but I truly was blown away by Chris August’s sardonic humor and arm flailing troubadour delivery.

The Fourth Wave starts with the 2009 team, supported by Busboys & Poets. 2DeepThePoetess joins with Delrica Andrews to keep the slam going to sold-out crowds. Theatrical poetic monologues, hip hop and political poetry pervade the Fourth Wave. The team is mostly African American, it is young and fresh—a contrast from the First Wave. They are competing without the guidance of earlier slam veterans. But there is enough lineage to keep a slam going, as well as a late-night audience hungry for spoken word art culture, and a venue that does not appear to disappear any time soon: Busboys & Poets.

Perhaps we will see another team in DC explode like in 1995. The slam is splintering and creating new hybrids and festivals and summits. Split This Rock is bringing in slam poets. Natalie E. Illum and I are starting Capturing Fire: A National Queer Spoken Word Slam and Summit. I coached Natalie in the 2009 Women of the World Slam in Detroit and Individual World poetry Slam in Berkeley. It is my hope that DC will support the youth poets and that we can continue to grow the slam, with its history of bringing those pioneers and young visionaries together to support each other. I'd like to see DC slam poets perform at the White House and maybe a future National Poetry Slam will take place in Washington, DC.

>>>

I invited Silvana Straw to write up her memories of the First Wave, and she provided the following statement, which I will reprint here in its entirety:

In 1993, I had been active in the performance poetry scene for about ten years. Art Schuhart, who had just started the DC Slam, kept telling me I should come down to the 15 Minutes Club. I decided to check it out one night with Reuben Jackson. At the time, both the performance poetry and burgeoning slam scene were pretty much male-dominated . The seven poets slamming that night were all men. I slayed them. One by one. Several were sore losers. (Violin interlude). I was hooked. Slam was a place where you could feel this great love for all poets and this great desire to kill them all. The DC Slam Team became my brothers. We loved each other’s poetry, nerve and humor. We challenged each other and grew as artists. When we arrived at the Nationals in San Francisco, I felt I had found my tribe—and it consisted of women poets too! I learned from the masters like Patricia Smith, Maggie Estep, Dael Orlandersmith, Tish Benson, Tracie Morris, Carl Hancock Rux, Willie Perdomo, and Hal Sirowitz. After taking in the national scene, Jeff McDaniel and I started the Poetry Bonanza series at The Black Cat, showcasing spoken word poets from around the country. My college professor, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Henry Taylor called, saying he had heard I was the Slam Champion—and just what was that—and how could he get involved? So we initiated him. I was on a mission: I served as an organizer for the Washington Performing Arts Society and the Nuyorican Poets Residency Project; produced the first-ever spoken word/slam events at The Kennedy Center and Smithsonian with Marc Smith and Bob Holman as hosts.

The best slam poets are daring and innovative—they know how to write a good poem and how to deliver it. Unfortunately, by the mid 90s, slam had become a formula and the “slam style” had reared its ugly head. The gold that the master slam poets had brought to the discipline had become lost in a sea of parrots imitating each other. Even more unfortunate, slam style hasn’t evolved much—and is too often uninspiring pageantry and painfully predictable. On a more positive note, DC has a vibrant youth slam culture, thanks to Kenny Carroll who created the DC Youth Poetry Slam in the 90s. Both he and Lisa Pegram have nurtured countless young poets. I am proud that I, as well as many of the veteran slam/spoken word poets, have served as coaches for the youth team since it was created. This culture of passing the torch in our city is a testimony of love—love that we have for each other, for poetry, and for slam. Some of the best poets I’ve heard over the past 10-15 years are young people like Isaac Colon, “Oke” Iweala, Kaylah Pazzaze, Molly Barth, and Sohayl Vafai (all who came out of the DC Youth Slam) as well as Patrick Washington and The Poem-Cees and Henry Mills. Many of us from the earlier days continue the struggle and glory of writing and performing. So much of what informs my work today, I learned from slam—how to write and perform honestly, how to take risks, how to be humble, outrageous, how to laugh at myself and make others laugh—and how in the end, it’s about the poem.

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What follows is a list of all the DC Slam teams. An asterisk indicates a poet who was the DC Slam Champion for that year, or who was the Highest Scoring Poet at the Finals, the local competition leading up to the Nationals. My thanks to the following individuals for their help in compiling this list: Jeffrey McDaniel, Silvana Straw, Delrica Andrews, Denise Johnson, Patrick Washington, Kim Roberts, and Jonathan B. Tucker.

[For the later updates, added in 2013, we thank Twain Dooley, Sarah D. Lawson, and Drew Law.]


DC SLAM TEAM HISTORY
* indicates DC Slam Champion for that year

1993
Slam Venue: 15 Minutes Club
Slam-master: Art Schuhart
DC Slam Team: Jeffrey McDaniel, Miles David Moore, Ed Simmons, Jr., Silvana Straw*

1994
Slam Venue: 15 Minutes Club
Slam Master: Art Schuhart
DC Slam Team: Andy Fenwick, Jeffrey McDaniel, DJ Renegade, Silvana Straw*

1995
Slam Venue: The Black Cat
Slam Master: Art Schuhart
DC Slam Team: Kenny Carroll. Jeffrey McDaniel*, Jose Padua, DJ Renegade

Another 1995 DC team
Slam Venune: 15 Minutes Club
Slam-master Hussain Naqvi, Solo representative: Hussain Naqvi

1996
No team

1997
No team

1998
No team

1999
No team, but Gayle Danley, DJ Renegade and Patrick Washington entered the Nationals as individuals

2000
Slam Venue: Café Myth
Slam Master(s): Toby Debarr and Nicki Miller
DC Slam Team: Denise Johnson, Scott Kirkpatrick*, Tanya Matthews, and Dave Lankford
Alternate: Twain Dooley

2001
Slam Venue: Café Myth
Slam Master Nicki Miller
DC Slam Team: Rich Boucher, Twain Dooley, Denise Johnson*, Patrick Washington
Alternate: David Lankford

2002
Slam Venune: Teaism
Slam Master Nicki Miller
DC Slam Team: Twain Dooley, David Lankford, Granma Dave Schein, Queen Sheba*
Alternate: Joanna Hoffman

2003
Slam Venue: Teaism
Slam Master Nicki Miller
DC Slam Team: Chris August, Twain Dooley*, Droopy the Brokeballer, Patrick Washington

2004
Slam Venue: Teaism
Slam Master Delrica Andrews
DC Slam Team : Chris August*, Droopy the Brokeballer, Twain Dooley, Sonya Renee

2005
Slam Venue: Teaism
Slam Master: Delrica Andrews
DC Slam Team: Chris August, Christian Drake, Sonya Renee*, Kimberley Zisa
Alternate: Jonathan Rechtman

2006
Slam Venue: Emergence Community Arts Center
Slam Master Delrica Andrews
DC Slam Team: Chris August, Gayle Danley, Twain Dooley*, Joanna Hoffman, Rhonda L. Taylor

2007
Slam Venue: R.F.D. Bar / Politics & Prose
Slam Master: Delrica Andrews
DC Slam Team: Chris August, Twain Dooley, Joanna Hoffman*, Chris Wilson

2008
no DC or DC/Baltimore team
(Baltimore sent a separate team consisting of Kyle Eichman, Twain Dooley, Ryan Mergen, Chris Wilson and Chris August)

2009
Slam Venue: Busboys & Poets
Slam Master: Delrica Andrews
DC Slam Team: 13 of Nazareth*, 2Deep the Poetess, Tsion the Wordsmith, Jonathan B. Tucker

2010
Slam Venue: Busboys & Poets
DC Slam Team

2011
Slam Venue: Busboys & Poets
Slam Master: 2Deep the Poetess
DC Slam Team: Shelly Bell, Hadaiya Ya-Ya Bey*, Rasheed Copeland, Pages.d Matam, 13 of Nazareth
and
Slam Venue: The Fridge
Slam Master: Sarah D. Lawson
Beltway Slam Team: Drew Law, Joseph Green, Twain Dooley, Chris August*

2012
Slam Venue: The Fridge
Slam Master: Sarah D. Lawson
Beltway Slam Team: Drew Law, Twain Dooley, Clint Smith, Pages Matam*

 

 


Regie Cabico has worked as a slam coach for individual and team competitors in the US and Canada. For the past four years, he has worked with the DC Youth Slam Team. Cabico was part of the New York Slam Team that won second place at the National Slam Championships in 1993 and the Mouth Almighty Team that won first place in 1997, and in 1994 he won third place in the Individual Competition. Cabico is co-editor of the anthology Poetry Nation: The North American Anthology of Fusion Poetry (Vehicule Press, 1998), and his work appears in the anthologies Short Fuse, Poetry Slam, The Spoken Word Revolution, and Full Moon on K Street. He is a program coordinator for Split This Rock, co-founder of the Asian performance series Sulu DC, and co-director of the Capturing Fire Queer Slam and Summit.

 

 

Published in Volume 11, Number 2, Spring 2010.
Updated through 2012: March 17, 2013.

 

Read more by this author:
Regie Cabico
Cabico's Intro to the Split This Rock Issue: Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter 2008
Regie Cabico: Audio Issue
Regie Cabico: Tenth Anniversary Issue

Regie Cabico: Langston Hughes Tribute Issue
Regie Cabico: Floricanto Issue
Regie Cabico on Essex Hemphill: Poetic Ancestors Issue