"He staggered in / disheveled, croaked / 'They don't usually rape you back.'"
The haiku above was written by local slam poet Cheryl Maddalena. Earlier this month, Maddalena took her poem prowess and slam skills to the Individual World Poetry Slam in Berkeley, Calif., and walked away the reigning national Head-to-Head Haiku Champion. She beat out seven other competitors from around the country. But she didn't go into the competition a winner per se.
"I didn't have to earn my spot at [IWPS]. You can just sign up at the event," Maddalena said. "I didn't have to beat any local poets. As a matter of fact, when I've competed here, I've always lost," Maddalena said, laughing.
Those losses at monthly Boise Slam Poetry events at Neurolux and Woman of Steel Gallery obviously helped Maddalena sharpen her skills. According to Isaac Grambo, event manager for Big Tree Arts and organizer of the local slams—which are open to the public—they can get pretty cutthroat and have both judges and poetry snobs in attendance.
"People heckle the poets ... especially if the poems rhyme," Grambo said. "Rhyming does not do well. People will argue that [a poem that rhymes] is more literary poetry than performance poetry." And there are big differences.
The focus of Big Tree Arts is concentrated on "promoting performance poetry," poems that, unlike literary poetry, are not written for the page, are not steeped in metaphor and don't allow time to reflect on their meaning.
"Performance poetry is less obscure and has a three-minute time limit," Grambo explained. Like with rappers, slam poets may have ideas or even full poems memorized and their head-to-head challenges are referred to as battles.
Unlike rappers, however, sometimes getting a laugh is a slam poet's goal. That's what Maddalena was going for when she wrote this: "When you cut yourself, / it is emo. When fish cut / themselves, it's sushi."
Big Tree Arts holds performance poetry events and workshops on the first Tuesday of each month at Woman of Steel Gallery and the third Monday of each month at Neurolux. The next workshop is Tuesday, Nov. 3, at Woman of Steel Gallery and is free and open to all ages. The Monday slam on Nov. 16 has been moved to Pengilly's and will be back at Neurolux in December. For more information, visit boisepoetry.com.