Members of Team Pittsburgh got an early start on their evening while waiting to compete against Team D.C. and Team Julio’s in last Sunday’s poetry slam at Julio’s Rooftop Pizza: They smoked cigarettes, drank Rolling Rock (brewed in Latrobe, Pa.), made new friends. But, unfortunately for them, the competition got off to a late start—and in the end, they lost.
At 11 p.m., Julio’s proprietors stopped the two-round slam in the middle of the second round so they could shut down the U Street eatery for the night. “We could have won,” lamented Team Pittsburgh Captain Christina Springer, who didn’t get her second chance at the mike. A slam veteran, she was slightly miffed. “You always save your best poets for the second round,” she explained. “It’s called ‘score creep.’ The scores get higher, because the judges feel looser.”
Joining Team Pittsburgh as an alternate member was Tehut-Nine, a Nuyorican poet whose phrase “licking her Hershey” qualified as the night’s most creative sexual metaphor. Throughout the night, many of the 15 competing poets riffed, five to a team, about craving sex, not getting enough sex, thinking about sex, or regretting having sex. At times, the slam felt like a stand-up comedy show, but with none of the toilet jokes (thank God).
Women delivered the most memorable performances of the evening. Springer, wearing a flowing white dress and dreadlocks hanging to the small of her back, led the audience out of the sack and into a reverie as she pulled up childhood memories of worshiping pop-music icons such as Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, and Diana Ross. “Aretha was the kind of woman my ancestors turned Catholic to get away from,” she deadpanned.
At the end of Round 1, Team Pittsburgh held the lead. Then along came Baltimore resident Tonya Matthews, who won it for Team D.C. with her rant against suburban ennui, “Synthetic Ulcers.” Matthews—whose luxuriant Afro defied gravity and take-no-shit delivery defied eveything else—bitterly criticized yuppies for stressing about fat, playing too much computer chess, and bungee-jumping, all while less-fortunates slaved and starved. “White folks ain’t got enough problems,” Matthews concluded, earning high scores from the night’s five judges, who’d been plucked from the audience earlier that evening.
On the male side of things, Team D.C. member David Lankford managed to share his life’s philosophy in just under three minutes. “Wear the sweater,” he admonished. Those ugly purple-striped sweaters, useless fruit dehydrators, and other disappointing gifts given by grandmothers on Christmas really are special, he explained, because they remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. The audience and judges agreed, and loudly repeated, “Wear the sweater!” when cued by Lankford.
But District teammate Scott Kirkpatrick apparently didn’t wear his sweater. Engrossed in a depressing rant, Kirkpatrick had nearly reached the climax of his woe when he suddenly forgot his lines. The judges rewarded him with the lowest scores of the night, but Fitzpatrick took it like a champion. “It happens to everybody,” said an empathetic Toby DeBarr, the evening’s official “slammaster.”
Pittsburgh came in second, Team Julio’s third. Teams D.C. and Pittsburgh used Sunday’s event as a rehearsal for the national slams that will be held in Providence, R.I., in August. In the meantime, slam organizers The MYTH at Julio’s, a local poetry collective, may take their Sunday slams elsewhere: Co-host Nicki Miller says they’ve been waiting six weeks for Julio’s owners to fix the air-conditioning system. —Lauri Apple