The Madison Slam Team is readying itself to travel to the National Poetry Slam in Austin, Texas. Four members are traveling south for the competition: Eric Mata (Madison's current reigning slam champion and Haiku Death Match champion), Ryan Hurley, Kyle "El Guante" Myrhe, and Josh Healey. Before they take off, though, the team will celebrate with a poetry exhibition at Escape Java Joint on Saturday evening. All members of the team excepting Healey will perform solo works and team pieces they plan to bring to the Austin competition.
Every member of the team is in in their mid-to-late-20s, and because all are male, they often deal with masculinity and the role men play in perpetuating sexism.
"It's really important to write poems that challenge male patriarchy and male sexism, to really examine how as men we participate in sexism -- not in a very overt way, like sexual assault or abuse, but in the more subtle ways that have an overwhelming impact on women," says Mata. "It's not so much about writing about women's experiences, but rather writing about those experiences from a male's perspective [such as] why men engage and interact with women in ways that are oppressive."
Hurley agrees: "I think it's important that we are able to examine and challenge [those] issues in both serious and playful ways."
But the group is hardly a one-trick pony. Response poems are also a big portion of its repertoire, which includes reacting to topics or pieces as well as ruminating on a topic from a different angle.
The Madison Slam Team stresses writing over performance and seeks to break away from formulaic or conventional slam types. "We don't write to slam," says Mata, "We come into it wanting to be great writers who happen to slam, and not performers who happen to write poetry. Integrity is really important to us."
Respect for fellow members, the desire to form a cohesive and unique approach to a piece, and an emphasis on the written word are more important to team members than winning competitions. "We practice the craft regardless of poetry slams," says Mata. "I think that's where we excel. Unfortunately, outside of Madison, great writing doesn't always fare well at slams."
Judging at the National Poetry Slam is done by randomly selected audience members. "The judge could be a creative writing professor or someone who was looking for the bathroom and took a wrong turn," jokes Hurley. "The scoring is completely subjective, but the crowd reaction usually influences how the judge will score the poem."
Mata, who once donned the role of judge, says the only rules are to pick what one enjoys and remain consistent.
Myhre asserts many of the praised pieces are loud and clichéd, tied to topics with which the audience identifies. "That's been Madison's hurdle," he explains, "We traditionally field teams of great writers who want to challenge themselves and the audience and that isn't a recipe for slam success." The national slam, he says, will be in about a dozen different venues throughout the city. "It's a great town for NPS -- lots of great spots, good food, lots to do," he says. "I'm excited about eating What-A-Burgers."
Starting next Tuesday, August 7, Myhre will be reporting from the National Poetry Slam on The Daily Page, updating readers about the "energy and creative chaos [from] all these insane poets from around the world converging in one place." Next year, meanwhile, local poets may enjoy a home-court advantage when the national competition comes to Madison.
In the meantime, give your well-wishes to the Madison Slam Team this Saturday. The event is hosted by mother-to-be Evy Gildrie-Voyles, the group's only female member, who is not going to Austin. The send-off is a free (one drink minimum), all-ages show, which Myrhe promises to be a good time: "All in all, it should be pretty informal, just a lot of fun."