Saturday, April 25, 2015

Slam Season 2014

I've been into writing poetry since I could first write in functional sentences as a child. I've been into performing since the first time I had the opportunity to take a stage. When I first discovered that my home city had a performance poetry scene after getting back from exchange in the latter part of 2012 I was beyond excited to get amongst it.

Back then, I got into it by way of signing up for a slam event which acted as a qualifying heat for the Wellington Regional Poetry Slam which in itself acted as a qualifier for the New Zealand National Poetry Slam. I had one piece which I'd barely memorised and a friend along with me for support.

By some miracle I came third in that heat and qualified for regionals. I did a little more writing and brought another piece with me to that event where I didn't end up placing, but I had fun and learned a lot. At this point I was really just feeling out the scene and I was still so nervous on stage that mental blanks were regular.

Fast forward past my 2013 trip to the US. On my return to Wellington I decided to get back involved in the scene. The events I'd competed in before had been put together by a group that now had themselves the name of Poetry In Motion. They met once a month which sounded managable at a bar in town which I'd never heard of at that time having formerly held their events at a rather small pizza place in town.

I decided to once again test my nerves on the slam stage and went along equipped with some new pieces, this time having actually taken the time to write and memorise before the event. Something felt different this time though. When I first slammed the sound of my voice coming at me from the back of the room made me uncomfortable and I felt like a scared little kid on the stage. This time the words were coming out the way I wanted them to, the audience reactions were what I wanted them to be and I felt like I was meant to be on that stage.

The scores I was getting through the night were reflective of a far higher level than anything I'd done prior and I was pretty stoked with myself on that. I was pretty sure that I'd made it into the top 3 again but there were a lot of other really strong performances that night and slam scores can be odd sometimes so nothing's ever a given.

As the third place name was read out, my heart sank a little, I figured that was probably my spot and when it wasn't me called I thought I was done. Second place got called out and the name belonging to it was who I thought would have been the winner but as I said before, slam scores are a little odd sometimes. At this point I was getting ready to congratulate whoever it was that had slotted into first place for the night, waiting for the name to be called.

I damn near cried. This was my third time in a slam poetry event and by some miracle I took first place. There was a cash prize that went along with it but honestly just the sense of belonging and empowerment I got out of that night was more than I ever could've asked for.

This of course meant that I qualified for the regional event later in the year so in my downtime I kept churning out loose lines that eventually got crafted into pieces from which I put together new performance material. I tried out some new stuff on whatever open mics I could get stuff organised for and kept churning through lines in my head trying to get stuff together that felt like it was of a high enough calibre to put out at regionals. I intended on doing the same pieces I'd done in the heat but I also wanted to try and write something in the mean time that could top that.

In the middle of the year, a slam event was organised in celebration of Matariki, essentially the Maori new year. After a little bit of procrastinating and inner debate, I decided to go ahead and sign myself up for it, promising myself that with the deadline of that looming, I'd actually get a new piece finished.

That goal was achieved and so I performed a brand new piece at the Matariki slam. The stage there was awesome. It was set up as part of Te Papa museums official Matarki celebrations so we had the privilege of using their Marae for the event. The place was packed out and there would have easily been a couple of hundred people there.

Unfortunately I didn't make the cut after the first round. I felt that I performed really well, and I got a relatively good reaction so I was feeling slightly hard done by if I'm totally honest. Slam scores don't always make sense though and I had performed the best that I could so I was at least happy with myself for that.

I got a few compliments from people I respect within the community on that particular piece so I shook the overall result of that one off and got working towards the regional final.

At the regional event I broke out a brand new piece which I was nervous about but I felt it would go over well with the audience. I performed better than I ever had before and in an amazingly strong competition, I had the honour of claiming third place. I couldn't believe it! In only my second slam season I'd managed to qualify for the National Poetry Slam finals.

The National Slam was hosted in Wellington on the Poetry In Motion home stage at Meow Bar. It was nice to have the comfort of a home stage in such utterly terrifying circumstances. I was more nervous before the National Slam than I think I've ever been before in my life. I had to down a good couple of beers to stop myself from shaking.

I did the same pieces at Nationals as I did at Regionals but switched up the order a bit because I thought the new one I tried out at Regionals was the strongest one I had and I really wanted to make sure I made the first cut, which eliminated half of the poets.

Again I had the good fortune of some of my strongest performances and the small edits and developments I'd made in pieces since the last slam seemed to go over well. This resulted in me making the first cut which I think left us with a top 7 competing in the second round.

I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to make top 3 although it would've been incredible to have done so. After making the first cut I was just hoping that one of our three Wellingtonian poets would win the night and that the other two might make the top trio.

In the end a Wellingtonian by the name of Ben Stokes took the title of National Slam Champion and as I predicted, I didn't make the top three cut but was more than happy with how my slam season had turned out.

I never even dreamed that I could write and perform well enough to make top 3 in a Wellington regional slam but somehow I managed to back myself enough to pull it off. The 2014 slam season was definitely a huge learning curve for me and gave me a massive boost of confidence towards future performances.

I could not have asked for a better set of results or a higher sense of self satisfaction than what I got out of performance poetry and slamming in 2014. I'm excited to hit the slam stage again this year and see what I can bring to the table. I'm sure I'll find a way to once again surprise myself and exceed my own expectations.

The next post here will be about Christmas 2014 which I spent on Great Barrier Island at mum's house.

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