May 29, 2014 in Washington Voices

The slam is on: Four bound for poetry tourney in California

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Poets Chris Cook, left, and Kimiko Hirota, right, joined slam master Isaac Grambo for the Spokane Poetry Slam finals Sunday at the Bartlett in downtown Spokane.
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They stand or sit in front of an audience and recite words that are sometimes tragic and sometimes funny but always heartfelt.

They are poets with different tones but one sure thing in common: They have a deep-seated need to share their inner worlds with others.

“As a writer, I aim to share myself in hopes that my voice helps others find theirs. Slam poetry has taught me that feeling and expressing raw emotion in public is OK. Human nature is OK and we don’t have to hide it,” poet Kimiko Hirota explained. “We share the common ground of our emotions and experiences together.”

They are a community of wordsmiths, age 12 to 70, and members of Spokane Poetry Slam, a few dozen writers who share their musings at local venues.

“It takes a room full of people for a slam to happen,” said Isaac Grambo, the commissioner of the slam. “It has to include poets, judges, a host, and audience members. The interaction among all of these people creates a bond that ties them together. If that bond isn’t love, then I don’t know what is.”

Attending one of the group’s events is a bit like a “Kumbaya” session; love and acceptance are in the air, as well as hoots, hollers and pats on the back. Though the events are competitive, it is done in such a way that the poets learn and receive support.

“Feedback leads to improvement,” said Hirota, 16. “Through the slams and open mics (a live show where audience members may perform at the microphone), I learn how to communicate better with the audience.”

The group hosts “Broken Mic” every Wednesday evening at Neato Burrito, 827 W. First Ave., workshops and readings at Auntie’s Bookstore, and slams at Boots Bakery and Lounge, 24 W. First Ave., and the Bartlett, 228 W. Sprague Ave. On Sunday, eight poets vied for a spot at the National Poetry Slam this August in Oakland, California. Random judges chosen from the audience held up scoring cards after each reading. After the numbers were tallied, four poets were chosen: Katie Laughlin, Emily Gwinn, Kurt Olson and Grand Slam champion Chris Cook.

One competitor was Travis Naught, author of “The Virgin Journals.”

“I, for one, am always aiming at an emotional response when I perform a poem at a slam,” Naught said. “Sometimes that response is cringing discomfort because of my graphic verbiage, other times it’s downright laughter at absurdities never thought of from the quadriplegic’s point of view, mixed with a bit of added creativity.”

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