Texas Grand Slam brought nation’s top poets to Bryan
Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 23:10
Tucked away in the corners of Bryan and College Station lies an underground society of writers and poets, eager to speak their mind and write their souls. This past weekend, poets battled their way for the top prize at the Texas Grand Slam poetry contest, hosted by Mic Check — a nonprofit poetry organization— all in the name of spoken word.
The event began Friday night with 42 poets, all competing for the final stage on Saturday. From there, a round of 10 poets was whittled down to the final four. This year, the first ever tie occurred, forcing the third and fourth place finalists to perform in a sudden death round. Kevin Burke won, Hieu Nguyen came in second, Justin Lamb third and Michael Lee finished in fourth.
Aleenah Spencer, senior biomedical science major and assistant director of Mic Check, said this year’s Texas Grand Slam hosted the largest audience the organization had ever seen.
“The event was packed,” Spencer said. “The Palace was packed, people were even standing up by the rails.”
Audience participation was highly encouraged by the members of Mic Check, the poets and the emcee, helping the performers to feed off of the crowd’s energy.
“Audience participation and energy is a major factor,” said Madison Parker, senior English major and competitor in Texas Grand Slam. “I had a friend who said he loved being an audience member because he felt that he was as much a part of the show as the poets. Having audience feedback also makes you feel a lot better about your performance.”
As the audience cheered and snapped, the poets grew more confident.
“[The poets’] energies were pretty high,” Spencer said. “They were very excited — especially having a slam in Texas — the ones from up north were ecstatic to be in Texas. Overall, it was a very positive vibe. It’s a huge competition but all of the poets were supportive of each other.”
Spencer said Slam poetry is life changing, as it gives people a new perspective on issues and allows performers a safe place to spill their personal stories to the audience. From racism to gender disparity and global conflicts to sex, each poet gave his or her take and opinion on real-world matters.
Parker said that her poetry comes from both the small and large issues in life. From her past to current situations, her writing envelops a variety of topics.
“I write about my emotions, feelings, sickness, health, family issues, friend issues,” she said. “The more honest you are, the more people are going to be able to relate to you.”
Parkerb said Mic Check has been around for close to 10 years, becoming a nonprofit in 2010. Since then, she said, it has continued to grow and thrive.
“[Slam poetry] is a hidden gem” she said. “You see people come out and experience it for the first time and more often than not, everyone’s response is, ‘Wow that was so cool.’ Experiencing it once, you will leave with something unique. We are all humans, we all have similar feelings and experiences to share.”
Ryan McMasters, Class of 2011, said Texas Grand Slam was his first major competition as a poet. The event forced him to grow in both his performance and writing, as McMasters was competing against veteran slam poets.
“Honestly, I’m not a competitive person, I just did this to push myself,” McMasters said. “I am a writer first and foremost.”
Live performance poetry does not always go as planned, but being able to recover is an important part of the competition.
“Based on my standards, I got off book, which is a huge thing for me,” he said. “I was able to power through some aspects that tripped me up during my practice sessions up to this.”
Kevin W. Burke, a poet from Austin, won the competition Saturday night, his second time to win Texas Grand Slam. His poetry has taken him all across the United States for various competitions.
“I competed the first year that Texas Grand Slam happened but the second year they had it I was in an international slam in Canada,” Burke said. “I have done a two or three week tour through the Midwest and the Northeast too.”
After Burke’s big win was announced, all the competing poets gathered on stage for a last bow and wave for the audience.
The poetry he performed over the weekend was made up of arrangements he had previously written.
“My poems are stuff I have in store,” he said. “When I write, I don’t necessarily write poems for a competition, they are all things I have already had written. These were ones that I had been rehearsing for though.”
The win brought with it personal glory, but also a cash prize of $1,200, something Burke said he was grateful for.
“This money will go to my rent and groceries,” he said. “I run a publishing company also, so I might take some of the prize money and work on the website for that. But on the real though, this is going to be rent and groceries first.”
Spencer said though Burke was the winner, his demeanor remained humble and modest.
“[Burke] was very excited,” Spencer said. “It was his second time winning, a lot of people were calling him ‘Two Buckles.’ He is a very humble person though. After the show, he was at the Revolution just dancing and hanging out with everyone.”