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Portland Poets Prepare for National Stage

Throughout the month of February, poets are competing in slam events that will determine who will represent Portland in the National Poetry Slam competition in Charlotte, North Carolina. Eventually, four poets will be chosen for the team.  

Poet Meg Waldron was the winner of a recent slam at Backspace Café in Old Town.

Waldron won the Backspace Café Poetry Slam.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

“It was exciting because I really want to make the team again,” said Waldron, who seemed energized by her victory.

Her win that night was a big step toward achieving her goal. Waldron is now a semifinalist who will move on to the next round of competition in a bracket full of other talented local poets.

“Because the slam has gotten so much bigger and stronger and all these great poets have come out, the competition is really intense — now you really have to work for it.”

Poet Chris Leja performs at the Portland Poetry Slam held at Backspace Café in NW Portland.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

Waldron has been writing poetry since she arrived in Portland a few years ago. Last year she was among the poets selected to represent Portland at the National Slam Competition in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a member of the Sparrow Ghost Poetry Collective, Waldron has connected with many of the people in the Portland poetry community.

Poetry exploded in Portland in 2005, fueled not insignificantly by former Portland poet Anis Mojgani. Mojgani won the National Individual Poetry Slam in 2005 and 2006, electrifying crowds with poems like “Shake the Dust.” Until recently, the energy and activity of poetry in Portland had seemed to slow a bit.

“It was fairly dead a while ago. I’d say that this is one of the high points of poetry in Portland within the last five years or so,” said “Slam Master” Eirean (pronounced “Aaron”) Bradley,  who has hosted the Backspace Café slams for the last two and a half years. Bradley is also a member of the Slam Council.

Slam Master and Host Eirean Bradley holds up the competition crown.

Ifanyi Bell / OPB

“There’s a boom in poetry going on here. It’s really nice.”

According to Bradley, “The goal of the poetry slam [at Backspace Café] is to get people enthused by poetry again — that’s what the “gimmick” exists for. It’s a competition, but the whole point is to make poetry seem fresh and interesting. It’s a gateway drug — you get people into it and then they see this thing that’s alive and then they find poetry later.”

The Portland Poetry team selection process is one of the only competitions in the country where the crowd determines the winners. Usually there is a formal scoring system, but not this time.

“Early on, a dog ate our scorecards,” said Bradley. “Seriously, a dog literally ate them — that’s not a joke.”

As a result, the Slam Council opted to use a “crowd-based” scoring system: the person for whom the crowd cheers the loudest, advances.

The Portland Poetry Slam Finals will be held on April 14, and the best four poets will compete at nationals.



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