Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Pure Ink Poetry Slamtastic Slam

Imagine if you could travel another dimension where it felt like a rhythmical creation of beauty in words outlining the walls, and with every breath of air you inhaled experience and everyone around you exhaled poetry. Guess what? You don’t have to travel far. That dimension happens to be called The Pure Ink Poetry Slamstastic Slam, which takes place in Buffalo, NY at the Gypsy Parlor. Not to mention that this event is monthly because you are sure to come back after your first experience. You may not be a poet, but you just might be the poem. What a way to kick off National Poetry month.

Getting off the route three bus on Grant Street on a snowy evening, I spotted the red sign reading Gypsy Parlor immediately. Upon entering, an identifiable waft of sweet potatoes fries and alcoholic beverages floated in the air. he bar stools were filled and the back of the parlor resembled the poetry juke joint in the film Love Jones. Sounds of Talib Kweli’s ‘The Blast’ flowed out of the speakers. The atmosphere was relaxed and the audience was diverse in not only race but age. A group of college students poured into the parlor, but there were also older couples and single adults seated in the audience. The DJ played a mix of oldies and new music, from Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, Notorious B.I.G, and Jay-Z to Rich Homie Quan, Big Sean and Drake records.

            Bianca L. McGraw, who hosted the event, kicked off the night by letting it be known “I am not a poet.” McGraw explained the slam to be a competition for the love of the audience and the love of the judges. She explained the three minute rule the poets had to abide by. Soon enough, the crowd started shouting “BLOOD!” Being a first-timer, I was confused until McGraw informed the crowd that they have “sacrificial poets” before the poets compete and also during the intermission between the three rounds.

An exciting factor during the competition is that the audience got to boo or clap each grade the poet was received by five judges on a 1 to 10 scale. By the way, “tens are almost mythical,” said McGraw. After the audience expressed their feedback, McGraw would say “Applaud the poet not the points.” It was truly a fun and engaging event. Three rounds of neck-and-neck competition went on throughout the night. Each round, the order was different.

 Tom Dreitlein was the first poet to grace the stage in the first round with a slamming opening performance. “To the girl who would not break, I’m here” is a line that stuck with me. Ten Thousand, a poet who won an earlier competition previously personally did best in my opinion in the third round, performing a poem about his weight. Apparently, the judges agreed because he received two 10s, which was the first time this happened that night. Brandon Williamson, the creator of Pure Ink Poetry, was next. This was a favorite of mine which consisted of him comparing relationships to the game of Spades. “If you renege, you should’ve stuck to solitaire,” said Williamson.

Ben Brindise is one of the most heavily lyrical poets I’ve ever witnessed in my life. In fact, I think it took me a while to comprehend everything. His last poem, Hash Browns stuck out to me, bringing forth a play on words with the title but was actually about a complex relationship. “I want a single bedroom home, you want a-part-ment complexes.” After that line was complete greatness. Izzy X’s performances were eye-openers. I enjoyed his first round, where he performed a poem touching on trans-misogyny.

“To me slam competitions are a lot of fun and a bonding experience. It's something that I will reminisce about with the other poets for a long time. But, I also think it's an important way to learn how we all work with a crowd, and what some of our strengths and weaknesses might be as a team, so we can start working to better those weaknesses” said Dreitlein.

What is Brindise's personal goal? “My goal is two parts. The first is to do justice to the piece, to try to perform it as optimally as possible. You want each listener to get your best every time. The second part is resonance. I want the audience to remember me. Even if they forget the piece or the words I want them to remember how I made them feel, how I shook them, if only for a moment.”

Personally, rap music is poetry with a beat. When asked whether rap was considered poetry, Dreitlein said, “Rap is without a doubt a form of poetry to me, in my opinion it isn't really even up for discussion. That being said, all songs are poems to me, poems put to music. I think rap is more often equated to poetry though because of the emphasis rappers put on lyricism and meaning in their work.”

Brindise somewhat agrees, saying, “Under the umbrella of poetry falls lyric, so yes, anything with lyrics can technically be called poetry. However, when considering the quality of the poetry I think we can agree ‘That's why we seize the moment/ try freeze it and own/ squeeze it and hold it/ cause we consider these minutes golden’ is a bit more poetic than "Two chains, but I probably got a few on".

In the end, Dreitlein won first place with a whopping 86.9 points and was given a championship belt. Williamson followed closely behind by two points with 86.7 points. Brindise came in third place. Ten Thousand came in fourth and Izzy X took fifth place. I was moved by every poem and I left feeling inspired. I watched these poets genuinely commend each other after each performance. Local poets got to flex their literary muscles and it was a lyrical exercise for our brains as well. Competitions such as the Pure Ink Poetry Slamtastic Slam have put Buffalo on the map, being the only monthly running poetry slam here. Wish them luck on the road to compete in the Poetry Slam Incorporated National Slam Competition.

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