William Evans performs at Button Poetry Live. Photo courtesy of Button Poetry Live.[/caption]
by Brooke Leonard
When someone says the words “poetry slam,” what comes to mind? Do you think of snapping fingers? Angsty young adults and college students dressed all in black? How about string lights, loud cheering and raunchy jokes? The word community?
If you have never been to a poetry slam before, Button Poetry Live is a great place to start. Their events appeal to anyone who loves words, supportive audiences and addressing current social and political topics in an impactful way. On Monday, Oct. 2, dozens of college students and poetry fans filed into Camp Bar in downtown Saint Paul for Button Poetry Live’s monthly poetry slam.
The rules are simple: All poetry must be 100 percent original content, and as the night’s host, Dua Saleh, clarified, “Not twenty percent, not eighty percent, not five percent, no. One hundred percent original content.” Each poet has three minutes on stage with a ten second grace period, and there are no props, costumes or instruments allowed. Five judges — each a randomly selected audience member — give each poem a score from one to ten: one being the most awful thing they’ve ever heard, and ten being that their lives were incomplete until they heard the poem. The highest and lowest scores are dropped from each round, leaving the middle three scores out of a total of 30 points. The audience’s task? Cheer each poet on as they walk to the stage, be respectful, and if they disagree with a judge’s score, shout “Listen to the poem!” The poets competing in the slam were Nader Helmy, Valin Paige, Rob Mitchell, Ellis Dawson, Miss K, Lilly Keefe-Powers, Evan Steel and Bernard Ferguson.
As far as content goes, this was not your stereotypical lovestruck-struggling-artist recitation. The subjects of the poems in the first round covered racism, sexism, politics, LGBTQ+ issues and ignorance. As serious and intense as the subjects were, the room was full of chuckles, cheers, snaps and claps. The only thing stronger than the voice of a passionate slam poet was the audience’s support.
William Evans, co-founder of blacknerdproblems.com and a regular participant in Button Poetry, acted as the featured poet and performed after the first round. Evans read poems from his new book Still Can’t Do My Daughter’s Hair as well as a poem he wrote just a few hours before stepping on stage. As the title of his book suggests, many of his poems were about his daughter and wife, but he also covered topics such as death, microaggressions, working as a black man, and Beyoncé.
Evan Steel, Miss K, Ellis Dawson and Rob Mitchell competed in the second round. The content of the second round was a bit more diverse: Steel’s poem focused on the importance of white people being active against racism, Miss K spoke about police brutality, Dawson asked “When do I matter?” in America, and Mitchell spoke about the parallels between playing “Dungeons and Dragons” and his relationship with his father.
The final round consisted of Miss K and Ellis Dawson. Dawson performed a poem bashing love at first sight, comparing his affections to “enticement at first thought.” Miss Kay spoke about her love of black women and how proud she is to see black women “smile, sing and talk about Jesus.”
Throughout the night, the judges gave eight perfect scores. Miss K was the night’s winner after receiving four of these perfect scores: one in the first round, one in the second round, and then two in the final round.
Button Poetry Live slams take place the first Monday of every month at Camp Bar, and students can purchase discounted tickets. The events are for ages 18 and up.