mightier than the sword

Central Texas slam poets bring home multiple National Poetry Slam championships

Central Texas slam poets bring home multiple National Poetry Slam championships

This city’s got some damn fine poetry going on. And, once again, we've got the rankings to prove it. Last weekend in Charlotte, NC, Central Texas had another stellar showing at this year's National Poetry Slam.

More than 1,000 people from across the country took to various stages throughout the southern city to battle it out for well-earned ranks to determine which team had the synergy of dynamic wordplay and crowd-pleasing performance to earn them the top spot in the slam world.
Three of Texas' top teams, Austin Poetry Slam, Neo Soul and Killeen Poetry Slam, were prepped and ready to go. With a long tradition of success and plenty of practice under their belts, the three teams prepared for battle.
Austin Poetry Slam won their preliminary bout against the Houston V.I.P. and secured a spot in semi-finals when they took second place in their second bout the next day.
The Killeen Poetry Slam, who has always been close with the Austin teams (even featuring a couple of Austin natives on the team this year), won their first bout against Providence and Tucson teams, and then followed it up the next night against Santa Cruz and Salt Lake City.
“Out of 72, only four get to final stage, so to make it to semis is incredible,” Christopher Michael, coach of the Austin Poetry Slam and founder of the Killeen Poetry Slam, explained.
Unfortunately, the string of prelim victories did not hold up. Austin's Neo Soul faced a meat-grinder of a bout during the first round and finished last, denying them a spot in the semi-finals. Although Neo Soul could no longer make it to finals, that didn’t mean they couldn’t leave without a title.

Teams that do not advance to semis but have the best group poems get placed in Group Piece Finals, a competitive showcase of some of the best team pieces at Nationals. Without a doubt, this is where Neo Soul wound up after they won their second preliminary bout.

“We didn’t make semis, but there was a reason we didn’t,” Neo Soul member Zai Sadler said. “I was really happy we made Group Piece Finals and got to showcase all the hours of work we put in.”

Meanwhile, Christopher Michael and I made the quarterfinals of Head to Head Haiku, where entrants pit actual haiku against one another and work their way through a bracket in rounds of increasing length. Hysterically, the finals are a best-of-seventeen round that tests the depth and breadth of your haiku skills. 

Christopher Michael and I agreed before the match that if we made the championship together, we would bring it to the final haiku, embrace and then quit the match. It was our hope that we could teach the audience a valuable lesson about teamwork and friendship before ending the movie in a freeze-frame jump.

But when we met in the semi-final match, the gloves came off. “I lost to some no-name,” Christopher Michael said of the end result (referring to me, of course). To his credit, I did go on to win, bringing home the first of the three official championships to Austin. 

While Austin Poetry Slam failed to advance out of their semi-final bout that night, Killeen Poetry Slam won, securing a spot on the final stage.

“It was the first time I made semi-finals and that was awesome," said Austin Poetry Slam team member Zach Caballero. "Even sweeter was that Killeen made finals."

Meanwhile, Neo Soul, who placed third in Group Piece Finals last year, went up against some of the best group poems at the National Poetry Slam and came out on top, becoming the National Poetry Slam Group Piece Champions, and earning a spot to perform on the final stage prior to the main competition.

With two of the three official championships wrapped up, only the final stage remained. After a fierce bout, Killeen Poetry Slam placed second in the nation, only behind Slam New Orleans.

“I’m really hyped that Texas and Central Texas put on a good show for everyone,” Zai Sadler said. “[Going to Nationals is] beyond the team; you’re representing a whole bunch of people, the community and the city. It’s bigger than just you.”

The show continues at home as slam venues will be celebrating the return of their winning teams this week. Austin Poetry Slam holds slams every Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. at the 29th St. Ballroom and Neo Soul hosts and open mics every Thursday beginning at 9:00 p.m. at 11th Street Station.  

Austin photo: News_National Poetry Slam_Group Finals
Neo Soul performs "MJ" in the Group Piece Finals. Photo by: Jacob Dodson
Austin photo: News_National Poetry Slam_Killeen Poetry Slam
Foressa Harrison, Doc Krueger, Allen Small and John Crow of Killeen Poetry Slam. Photo by: Jacob Dodson
Austin photo: News_National Poetry Slam_Austin Poetry Slam
Austin Poetry Slam performs their group piece, "Drumline," during their first preliminary bout Photo by: Jacob Dodson
Austin photo: News_National Poetry Slam_Neo Soul Slam
Neo Soul members Shae Harris and Danny Strack perform "Reverse Stereotypes" during a prelim bout. Photo by: Jacob Dodson