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Scores don't matter to competitors at the Slam U Finals

The poets crowd the stage, greeting and congratulating each other after the competition.
The poets crowd the stage, greeting and congratulating each other after the competition.
Photo by T.M. Göttl.

“F*** the scores!” came as a collective war-cry from the teen competitors just before the results were announced at the Slam U Finals on Friday evening.

Not usually a sentiment heard at a competition of any kind, especially not from the competitors.

Part sporting event, part theatrical production, part concert, the Slam U competition felt like anything but your average poetry reading as audience arriving at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre were greeted by DJ Urban Decks on stage, spinning hip-hop tracks before the competition.

Emcee Rafael Santiago Casal, an internationally-recognized performer, warmed up the crowd, getting the audience to “practice” their snap-and-scream and tossing freebie ball-caps—sporting-event style—into the crowd.

But the main event, of course, was the teen poets.

Over the course of three weeks, the Slam U competition whittled down a field of 54 teens to the six who will represent Cleveland at the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival this summer in Los Angeles. The final 16 teens competed in three rounds on Friday.

Early in the evening, the audience heard pieces about love and relationships, dreams, and even one, by Adrian Watson, for his mother on Mother’s Day. As the evening grew later, heavier topics emerged: racial injustice, sexual equality, rape, drugs, abortion, suicide, and one teen, Alana Belle, performed a surprising piece about the Imperial Avenue murders. Though many poems were more world-weary than the teens’ ages betrayed, humor was present as well. Jacob Oet drew chuckles from the audience in the first two rounds, as did Lee McKinstry in a piece about a trip to the Grand Canyon with her father.

After each performance, a poet’s fellow competitors jumped up to offer hugs. When a performer stumbled or lost the line, the other competitors would snap and shout an encouraging, “You’ve got it, you’ve got it…” And the five judges scored the competition in silence, never announcing the scores, but only the names of those moving to the next round. Truly, the friendliest fellowship of “competitors” in any “sport”.

F*** the scores, indeed.

Congratulations to Cleveland’s 2010 team: Alana Belle, Derick Holifield, Maya Jones, Arianna McCall, Lee McKinstry, and Eric Odum.

If you missed the competition, you can still catch the 2010 Slam U Team Showcase Performance on July 15, 2010, at 7pm at Playhouse Square’s Westfield Insturance Studio Theatre, Idea Center.


  • Vertigo Xi'an Xavier 5 years ago

    Alana also performed the piece about the Imperial Avenue killer in the semi-finals. As the audience realized what she was saying, whose voice the poem was written in, I was truly frightened. For a moment, I feared that the audience would tear her to pieces, literally have her drawn-and-quartered there in front of Playhouse Square. Then as she finished the piece, the audience erupted in applause and cheers, with nearly everyone on their feet. For all the wonderful and daring work I heard over the three weeks of SlamU, Alana performing that piece stands out as the most shocking and intense thing I have seen at any poetry reading in quite some time.

  • Angie 5 years ago

    sounds like a very supportive community of youngsters!

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