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Spokane poetry community hosts Individual World Poetry Slam for second time

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 6, 2017, 4:38 p.m.

Between Spokane Poetry Slam, BootSlam, Three Minute Mic and Broken Mic, Spokane has made a name for itself in recent years as home to a thriving performance poetry community.

After a successful event in 2013, Spokane is once again hosting the Individual World Poetry Slam, which will be in downtown Spokane from Wednesday through Oct. 14.

Host city coordinator Isaac Grambo, who also acts as commissioner of Spokane Poetry Slam, has spent the past two years preparing for this year’s event, which was created by Poetry Slam Inc.

When it hosted the 2013 competition, Spokane was still fairly new to the national scene, having sent few teams to the National Poetry Slam. But despite being the new kid on the poetry block, the city impressed many visiting poets.

“People came not knowing what they were getting into and were impressed by the city of Spokane and the audiences that we had and the experience they had while they were here,” Grambo said. “For the next four years, poets would see me at National Poetry Slam or other iWPS or (Women of the World Poetry Slams) and say ‘When are you going to do it in Spokane again? Spokane was awesome. We really loved it.’ ”

After sending in a bid to host the 2016 event just a little too late to be considered, Spokane was selected as the 2017 host city.

To prepare for the event, Grambo and host city planning committee members have been working on raising funds for various marketing opportunities and to get venues lined up.

At the 2013 event, 72 poets performed their work at three venues over two days of preliminary bouts.

At the 2017 competition, 96 poets will perform during two nights of preliminary bouts at four venues – The Bartlett, Boots Bakery and Lounge, Rocket Bakery in the Holley Mason Building and the downtown branch of Spokane Public Library.

The Individual World Poetry Slam will be the first event held at the library’s new performance space.

“It’s the glass windows on the third floor overlooking the river so as night falls, that’s going to look totally rad,” Grambo said.

Along with the preliminary bouts and the finals, in which the top 14 poets from the preliminary bouts compete, the Individual World Poetry Slam features a variety of non-bout events, including a late night cypher, a creative writing club and a Spokane showcase.

There are also several identity-based open mics for Asian American/Pacific Islander, Latinx, Native American, African American and queer poets, a response to the current cultural life people are living in the United States, Grambo said.

“This was a little bit by PSi but also the poets who we speak to at national events and even locally,” he said. “We have a number more identity-based side events to try to feature voices of people who maybe feel like they aren’t being heard quite as clearly in this point in time.”

Grambo and the planning committee also want that inclusion to extend to the audience.

Because each of the four preliminary venues are hosting two preliminary bouts each night, the committee made the decision to schedule the bouts half an hour apart instead of having the late bout immediately follow the early bout.

“We’re hoping that that allows audience members who aren’t familiar with the rapid fire competition part of these national events to feel like they’ve got some breathing room,” Grambo said. “Like ‘OK, I can experience this and maybe take it in for a second and then I can go to the next thing.’ ”

They are also making a variety of ticket options available, including a student pass ($50), a festival pass ($60) and a finals-only ticket ($27).

For performance poetry fans looking to be part of the event themselves, there are also judge’s passes ($20, $45 with finals ticket), a discounted ticket in exchange for time judging bouts.

“Judges at national poetry events are always people who are just coming to the show and they’re not a poet and they’re not affiliated with any poet,” Grambo said. “Preferably, they’ve never been to a slam before.”

Grambo is excited for the Individual World Poetry Slam to return to Spokane because he knows it will help bring new voices into the local poetry scene. He noted that some of the host city committee members hadn’t been to a slam until the 2013 event and have been a consistent part of the slam poetry scene since then.

He also sees Poetry Slam Inc.’s decision to bring the event back to Spokane as a testament to the city’s poets.

“One of my slogans when I’m dealing with whether it’s visual art or performance poetry, it’s from a curator from Southern California in the ’60s, an art curator, and he said ‘Art offers the possibility for love with strangers,’ ” he said. “Those Spokane poets that go to national events, but also if you come to BootSlam or Spokane Poetry Slam or Broken Mic or 3 Minute Mic, the people who are in the community embody that motto and that really shines through when we get things like having Individual World Poetry Slam coming to Spokane.”