As each of the poets took the stage, it was as though they and the audience were one for a brief moment.
Applause, finger snapping and moans erupted from the crowd, signs of appreciation filling the Bing Crosby Theater on Saturday night. On a softly lit stage, 12 finalists in the Individual World Poetry Slam tackled life’s struggles with nothing but the spoken word.
“What do you dream of growing up to be when your body is no longer a wholly sacred thing?” asked performer Carrie Rudzinski, her voice quivering, the crowd buzzing. “I am 12 years old and I realize woman is synonymous with survivor.”
The three-day festival brought 72 poets from across the United States and Canada to perform in Spokane. Local businesses and the Spokane Arts Fund worked to bring the event to Spokane, said Karen Mobley, the Spokane Arts Fund project manager.
“We have a really hungry community for new writers and new ideas about writing,” Mobley said.
City Council President Ben Stuckart took the stage to welcome the audience and to perform some of his own self-described “bad poetry” to roaring applause and laughter from the audience.
“The arts are part of the community, and without them the community dies,” Stuckart said.
Organizers selected five random members from the audience to be judges, an effort to make the performances more relatable, event coordinator Isaac Grambo said.
“It’s this more democratized idea of looking at art,” Grambo said.
As winners Ed Mabrey and Xero Skidmore were announced – both finished the night with perfect scores – the audience leapt to their feet shouting.
Mabrey, a traveling performer from Charlotte, N.C., said he’s drawn to poetry as a way to destroy barriers and encourage conversation among those who may not see eye to eye in other settings.
“Poetry is one of the original and last forms of revolution in terms of being able to affect people and make a change,” he said.
One of Mabrey’s poems was a letter to Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black teenager killed by George Zimmerman in 2012.
Skidmore, of Baton Rouge, La., said it is up to poets and artists to create some type of change in the community and the world.
“It’s up to us to create some type of ripple that makes them see something in a different life,” Skidmore said.