An estimated 500 poets representing 72 slam teams from across the U.S. and Canada -seven from the Bay Area -will verbally battle it out for five days in front of thousands of fans for the title of 2014 National Poetry Slam Champion.
This year, the poetry competition features an all-female slam team, from New York's Nuyorican Poets Café, the Nuyorican; a new San Francisco team New Sh!t Squad (performing only poetry written during July) and the Last Chance Squad, a team that will be formed the eve before the festival begins.
Six Bay Area veteran slammers -Daphne Gottlieb, Jamie DeWolf, Joyce Lee, Meliza Bañales (a.k.a. Missy Fuego), Mesej 1, and Shawn William -are being honored as the faces of the 25th Anniversary of the National Poetry Slam, representing the diversity of the Bay Area's slam poetry community.
"It's an incredible opportunity for Oakland to showcase itself as a gem in the Bay Area celebrating arts, celebrating community, and celebrating our love for this city through the power of voice,"said Maureen Benson, volunteer host city co-director of the National Poetry Slam!.
Mona Webb, who is Slam Master of the San Francisco Slam and one of the Bay Area organizers and community outreach coordinator for NPS, agreed.
"The Bay Area, we are an extraordinarily diverse artist community and to showcase that to the national poetry circuit that everyone's voices are being represented, that's important,"said Webb, who is hosting the "Take Back the Night Women's Open-Mic."
Sheila E, co-founder of Elevate Oakland and the Elevate Hope Foundation, agreed.
"This city has set the stage to introduce even more gifted youth with the potential to impact our world. The National Poetry Slam! is showcasing some amazing young poets,"said singer and Oakland native Sheila E. "It encompasses some of the most artistically creative and talented people in the nation."
Ticket sales to the poetry slam will raise money for Elevate Oakland, a joint venture between 51Oakland and Elevate Hope Foundation to bring arts to Oakland Public Schools.
Dahled Jeffries, volunteer co-director of the poetry competition, is excited to share Oakland with his "poetry family."
"It makes me very excited and very proud to be able to show Oakland some of the most talented spoken word artists in the world,"added longtime Oakland poet Jeffries proud to show off the city as well as have Oakland serve as a stage for local and visiting poets."The folks that we are bringing in are just incredibly talented. It excites me that they are going to be on the stages here and bringing their energy to the folks of the town."
Jeffries is also the Slam Master of the Oakland Slam Team.
25 Years: The Power of Art
A former high school principal and English teacher, Benson, who became involved in the East Bay poetry scene after she moved to Oakland 15 years ago, believes that the duration of the competition for a quarter of a century qualifies the power of art.
"It celebrates just how powerful art and the power of voice is in each of us,"said Benson, pointing out that not only has the festival survived, it has thrived.
"It has exponentially grown into the largest festival of its kind. There is absolutely nothing like this on this scale anywhere on the planet,"said Benson.
Jeffries agreed, pointing out that when slam started in the 1990s in San Francisco there was originally two teams and an individual poet. When San Francisco hosted third nationals a couple of years later there were 16 teams of four poets, he said. Today, slam is very different.
The slam competition is more than the sport of words. Throughout the five days attendees will enjoy a variety, more than 80, themed workshops, open mics, and showcases including hip hop, Haiku, Latin, Asian, queer, women, youth and more. Every night there will be late night entertainment, including an Erotica Slam and Dirty Haiku Battle and for the feminists a Take Back the Night Women's Open-Mic, as well as sober spaces, such as trivia night. Youth workshops are free for young people 14-19 years old. Finals will be at the gorgeous Scottish Rite Center on Saturday August 9th.
"We have stuff for every different kind of person there is,"said Jeffries. "Come out we've got something for you."
Jeffries hinted that the night to come, if people are planning to attend only one night, is Friday, August 8. Friday will be jam packed with events and that an extra unannounced late night event will happen.
"The inside tip is if you are only going to come to one night come to Friday,"said Jeffries. "There's an early show and then a late show and a secret, secret extra late show. You just have to be there to hear about it."
"There are seriously dozens of events that I'm so excited about,"said Benson. "I'm just going to have a Red Bull in my purse, run around all week and have an incredible time."
Art in Schools
The host city team co-directors are proud to support Elevate Oakland to increase art in Oakland Public Schools.
"They are about leaving Oakland powerfully impacted by the arts and I loved that about them," says Maureen, who hopes to raise $10,000 - $15,000 to put artists into Oakland schools for the coming school year.
Yoshi Akiba, co-owner of Yoshi's Jazz Club and co-founder of Elevate Oakland is a huge supporter of arts in the schools said that she couldn't imagine kids losing access to art and music.
"The power of art and music is beyond description! I do not want to imagine a world where our children do not have access to something so important,"said Akiba, whose goal is to make sure Oakland's public schools have access to music and art.
"Without access to art and music, kids will lose the ability to express themselves and be open to new things,"said Akiba. "Music sets us free. At the same time it brings us together."
The festival is also co-sponsored each year by Poetry Slam, Inc. Locally, the festival has received generous support from The City of Oakland, The New Parkway Theatre, Visit Oakland, and two important supporters and venues for the event, Venue Oakland, and Impact HUB Oakland.
Slam is taking over Oakland, August 5 -9th. For the schedule of events and locations, visit NationalPoetrySlam.com. Tickets range in price from $15 for a semi-final bout on that coveted Friday night all the way up to $125 for a VIP pass (including wine and cheese before finals) for the entire week.
About the Poetry Slam, Inc.
The nonprofit organization oversees the international coalition of poetry slams and promotes performance and creation of poetry while cultivating literary activities and spoken word events and the annual National Poetry Slam!. The organization encourages audience participation and stimulating creativity through a variety of workshops, events, mentorships and more worldwide. To learn more about PSi, visit PoetrySlam.com.
Photo credit: EDEN PR Firm