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Image by Jeff Moses.
Phoenix Poetry Slam Championship Trades Lawn Gnome For The Phoenix Center For The Arts: Those Who Place In The Top Four Spots Will Represent Phoenix At The National Competition In Oakland


By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

Jan. 27, 2014 — In yet another move that highlights the obvious growth of the Phoenix poetry scene, Lawn Gnome Publishing owner Aaron Hopkins-Johnson has taken the Phoenix Poetry Slam Championship, dubbed The Golden Gnome Slamoff, out of his shop’s backyard and moved it to the Phoenix Center for the Arts, 1202 N. Second Street, Phoenix. This announcement comes just months after Johnson won the bid to get the Individual World Poetry Slam to Phoenix in 2014.

A Poetry Slam is a competition where poets read original material not to exceed three minutes. The slamoff will have three rounds, and each poem will be judged on a scale of zero to 10, according to Hopkins-Johnson. He went on to say, “a zero is the worst thing you have ever heard, and a 10 makes you want to go home and picture Maya Angelou naked and makes everyone want to do a cartwheel at the same time.”

The judges however are not poetry experts, they are, in fact, picked out of the crowd at random, and Johnson, who is not only hosting the event but also competing in it, said  “hopefully they’ve never been to a poetry slam before.” His sentiment does not come from some devious plot for victory though. It’s more so the judges have no biases about style or the competitors themselves.

There are nine other poets competing against Johnson, and the top four will be representing Phoenix in Oakland at the National Team Poetry Slam in Oakland in October. Last year’s Phoenix team ranked seventh at the team slam in Boston. But this year only one poet who qualified in 2013 will be competing, Jeremiah Blue. But Blue did not take the trip to Mass. with his teammates.

The poets have been collecting points throughout a three-month slam season. The other competitors are twin brothers Richard and Randy Morris. Richard is the more polished poet, while Randy competed at 2013’s Individual World Poetry Slam in Oakland. As well as Mesa-based Tristan Marshall, who has represented Phoenix in the team slam before, ASU student Emily Cimino, Flagstaff transplant Valence, E.P. Bradley, Aaron Burch, and Frankie Marchi are involved. Also the calibration poet (she goes first to give the judges a practice shot at scoring) is Tara Cantrell and sorbet (he goes in-between poets) poet is Devin Beck.

According to Johnson, a poetry slam veteran, “there were more first time poets this year than any slam season I have ever organized.”

Hopkins-Johnson admitted he does not think he will win, and will act as the team’s coach as they prepare to compete. So, in being the team's coach the event’s move to The Phoenix Center for the Arts is actually part of his strategy.

He said he felt that if last year’s team had more time to practice, and more money to put into the trip, they would have competed better.

“Last year the team ranked seventh in the nation in Boston. This year with more time to practice and more funds, the poets don't have to worry so much about paying for hotels and how they're going to eat. If they can just worry about getting to the bout and reading good poetry that represents our demographic and Phoenix itself, I think we have better chance of winning.”

With the event coming up on Feb. 15 beginning at 7 p.m., the team will be solidified with plenty of time to begin practicing for October. Meanwhile, moving it provides Hopkins-Johnson the opportunity to sell more tickets, with all proceeds going to the team’s expenses.

Tickets to the event will be $10, with a $2 discount given to all students with a current student I.D. Johnson said his main goal is raising enough money get a vehicle to transport himself, his wife and the team to the event.

Jeff Moses a senior contributor at Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at
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