Poets engage in word war

Spokane’s growing arts scene attracts World Poetry Slam competition

Every year since 2004, slam poets from all over the country (and some from outside the United States) have convened for a weekend in some city to compete for the glory of being named the top performer in the world of slam.

It’s the Individual World Poetry Slam (iWPS), and Spokane is serving as host city for this year’s events. Think of them as the Linguistic Olympics, except there’s only one gold medal. The 2013 iWPS (the poets pronounce it “eye-whoops”) begins with a wild card slam on Wednesday, followed by two days of preliminaries in which the competition will be whittled down from 72 poets to a mere dozen. On Oct. 5, the final 12 will perform, and whoever receives the highest score will be the winner.

If you’ve ever been to a slam, you know the rules: Participating poets get three minutes to present their work, usually in a series of rounds, and members of the audience rate each performance on a 1 to 10 scale. The same format applies to iWPS, except the rounds vary in time from one minute to four.

“The time parameters really force you to write new things,” said Kurt Olson, one of only two Spokane poets who are scheduled to compete. “You see poets who are reading poems that are 10 or 12 years old alongside stuff they’ve finished the month before.”

That element of spontaneity is all over the iWPS format. For example, whoever wins the wild card slam will get a chance to compete in the prelims. And peppered throughout the 72 contestants are several so-called “storm poets,” who were randomly chosen to perform their work after the initial competitors had already been scheduled.

Mark Anderson, one of those storm poets, was partly instrumental in getting iWPS to Spokane. With help from fellow poet Isaac Grambo, Spokane Arts Fund director Karen Mobley, and a letter of support from the mayor’s office, Spokane was eventually chosen, Anderson said, because of the community support for local arts.

“We have a vibrant community of poets but also have a supportive business community that wanted this here,” Anderson said. “That’s what made us attractive.”

Both Anderson and Olson have been integral to Spokane’s slam poetry scene – Anderson has been emceeing open mic nights at Neato Burrito for several years now, and he’s handing the hosting reigns over to Olson. Both of them believe that having iWPS in Spokane will bolster Spokane’s artistic reputation outside the Inland Northwest.

“I’m definitely proud of Spokane,” Anderson said. “I think it’s going to be startling and refreshing for a lot of people that come into this atmosphere and see what we’re doing. I think there’s going to be some really interesting cultural exchange.”

If Spokane isn’t universally recognized as a lively hub for writers and performers, Olson hopes that the competitors who are traveling to Spokane from around the country will acknowledge the talent and hard work of Spokane’s slam poets.

“I hope they walk around the city and hear the poets reading and meet the people working, and they think to themselves, ‘These poets don’t write because they’re privileged. They write to stay alive. They write for a reason. They really have something to change, and they’re trying to do it through art.’ I hope they see that and understand that art isn’t a way to pass the time, but a way to make the time worthwhile.”

There are five comments on this story »


UI men’s basketball: Vandals at Lumberjacks

Big Sky Men's Basketball Idaho Vandals (14-9, 6-4) at Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (3-18, 1-9) Saturday, Feb. 6, 1 p.m. | Walkup Skydome, Flagstaff, Ariz. Watch: Online: WatchBigSky.com Outlook: NAU Up ...

TGIF Wild Card — 2.5.16

I find myself eyeing my garden spot in the back yard every morning when I first wake up. I have plans for some changes there. But I did much of ...

The week that was…

Tonight’s “Idaho Reports” rounds up the happenings of the fourth week of this year’s legislative session, from Medicaid expansion to tax cuts. Melissa Davlin interviews House Health & Welfare Chairman ...

5 education reads found in the last 7 days

More education writing. This week covers imposter syndrome, (especially among high-achieving students of color) the five folk looking to run the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (what a ...



Contact the Spokesman

Main switchboard:
(509) 459-5000
Customer service:
(800) 338-8801
(509) 459-5400
(800) 789-0029
Back to Spokesman Mobile