Arts: It's verbal-throwdown season

San Antonians have a lot to be proud of. The Spurs. The River Walk. The Alamo. Whatever. I’m talking about poetic hecklers — as in poets who heckle other poets, making good old SA a prime location for some sweet pre-National Poetry Slam action. If you can take the heat at the puroSLAM National Showdown at Ruta Maya on August 5, you’re like butta for the championship in Austin, August 9-12, which will feature 75 national teams representing their

7pm Sat, Aug 5
Call for price
Ruta Maya Riverwalk
107 E. Martin

hometowns. Who will be braving the Ruta Maya madness? Look for San Antonio (duh), Austin, Houston, Corpus Christi, Albuquerque, Berkeley, Boston- Cantab, and Bowling Green.

Boston Slam poet Dawn Gabriel is looking forward to the skin-thickening energy of our city’s sticks-and-stones, non-snapping crowd. She’s even bringing her 4-yearold son. “I’m excited about San Antonio,” she says, “because they have a reputation for being the meanest Slam poets around.”

For San Antonio Slam poet coach Jason Gossard, puroSLAM is a great time to check out the competition, and bring the energy of the Sam’s Burger Joint Tuesdaynight poetry slams to Ruta Maya. But will the S.A. team — or any of the teams for that matter — be wholeheartedly slamming at puroSLAM, or just using the opportunity to bluff before the biggie? Gossard says they might not bang it like a grand battle: “We’re just hoping to get really comfortable with the pieces we’re performing, see other poets, and compete without it being the national competition.”

Albuquerque’s victory at the 2005 National Poetry Slam was attributed to the strength of their group poetry. The trend caught on — audiences at puroSLAM can look forward to 30-50-percent team poetry from San Antonio’s poets on Saturday, by Gossard’s calculations.

According to Don McIver, organizer of the Albuquerque team, with only two of the former members returning, this year’s group has a much different dynamic than last year’s winners. “We’re a great team,” he says, “but we’re also the defending champions, so we’ve got a target on us already.”

Others take a less competitive stance. “We really just want to go and have a good time and enjoy the gathering of the tribes,” said Boston’s Gabriel, who started as a slam poet in a spoken-word tent at Lollapalooza. “Slam is this wonderful place where the written word comes alive.”

I couldn’t agree more. As a young student (OK, last year), I remember gazing up at my poetry teacher in awe as he read “Jabberwocky” aloud to us in his sometimes booming, sometimes whispery, Cuban accent. At the moment he finished the poem, I knew that poetry was dead on the page, like an unperformed play (speaking of which, let’s bring heckling back to theater, OK?), like a tree that falls in the woods when no one is around. I knew that the essence of poetry exists in the spoken word.
 Now that I’ve had a totally deep, beret-wearing moment ... check out puroSLAM on Saturday. Tickets are five bucks and the doors open at 7 p.m. But before you leave home, ask yourself one question: Are you a snapper or a heckler?


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