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The Night Porsha O.

Stole The Show

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At The Finals Of The Individual World Poetry Slam 2014 in Phoenix, A Bevy Of Talented, Enthusiastic And Bold Performers Took The Stage To Say Their Piece And Entertain The Crowd But One Woman Grabbed The Room By The Collar And Slammed It Into Submission


By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 13, 2014 — Saturday night in Tempe, a mad and sweet woman known by many as Porsha O. got up on stage and won the hearts of the audience.

She used many different methods on her way to being awarded the title of Individual World Poetry Slam 2014 champion: whispers, screams, emphatic urgings, logic, analogy and wordsmithing. While many of her competitors did the same things, Porsha O. (real last-name Olayiwola) seemed to have the title wrapped up early and in fact, her first two performances nearly brought down the house. Her third performance was akin to a victory lap.

She splashed verbal gems that reverberated about the walls of the Marquee Theater, 730 N. Mill Ave., Tempe, from the get-go. The finals Saturday night was a fitting end to the three-day event which had been held at various locations across the Phoenix metro, featuring 72 slam poets from across the country. The 12 finalists Saturday night were culled from the earlier performances and featured the “best of the best” competing in three elimination rounds with each poet being given three minutes.

Porsha O. started talking sweetly and smiling before starting on a poem that talked about how she was “pissed off” at things like slavery, gentrification and nearly anything else that surely others recognize as being “pissed-off-able” but might have never assembled them so succinctly.

One of the best nuggets by Porsha O. in that first round was, “I’m mad because I only have three minutes to say this poem and I have 10 minutes of pissed off.”

That first round by Porsha O. was the perfect blend of anger, emotion and multi-directional reality that is rarely seen in slam poetry.

Her biting second-round performance grasped at defining what she portrayed as the underlying cause of modern society’s ills: capitalism. In this effort, she both confronted the theory that people seeking money at all cost blinds them to injustice which then leads to slavery, homophobia, and nearly all of the societal ills plaguing the world.

“I fucked myself and gave birth to slavery,” Porsha O. said, speaking as capitalism. “I am the reason women take off their clothes and keep poles between their legs.”

And, although Porsha O. was wonderfully superb and clearly won the night and the audience, the others who made the finals — Desiree Dallagiacomo, Twain, Danez Smith, Damien Flores, Will Evans, Ed Mabrey, Leo Bryant, Hanif Abdurraqib, Imani Cezanne, Hieu Minh Nguyen and Joaquin Zihuatanejo — had great moments, too.

But it isn’t so much about the poems or the performances or who wins, when it comes down to it. As slam-master Christopher Michael put it right before the winners were announced, winning or losing — especially in the finals of an event as high-profile as the IWPS — is not what is important. What is, according to Michael, is that people came out to hear slam poetry and recognize those who have the talent and guts to perform. And, if it inspires some to expand their ways of thinking, all the better.

“All of this does not validate you. This is simply a game to trick the unwise to spending some time listening to poetry,” Michael said.

And there certainly were some great gems thrown out by all of the poets Saturday night at the finals.

“To be born black is to be born with a hole where bullets go,” said Twain.

Hieu Minh Nguyen did a poem about being abused that focused on how one’s memory can at times be blamed for not forgetting bad experiences easily and forever.

“Memory is an asshole. It locked my keys in the car,” Hieu Minh Nguyen said. “The first memory of me being molested came to me nine years later when I was sitting on a bus.”

Zihuatanejo talked about being a teacher and had this to say about teacher pay: “other paychecks give my paychecks an atomic wedgie and pushes them into a locker.”

Danez Smith’s poem about being HIV-positive at an early age ended on a note about forgiveness.

“Today, I forgive myself, the boy that I was and the boy that I am, too,” Smith said.

Damien Flores told some great stories — even one about his grandfather who was also a story-teller — and, while his tale of Juana against the tamale machine seemed a take on Paul Bunyan, he definitely impressed the room with a word turn that brought gasps.

“And her shadow stained the floor where she stood,” Flores said, referring to the moment when Juana finished the competition.

But the event was more than just a triumph of slam poetry. It was also a triumph of Aaron Hopkins-Johnson, the owner and operator of Lawn Gnome Publishing, 905 N. Fifth Street, Phoenix, who was the local host for the event and the driving force behind it being located in the Phoenix metro in 2014.

According to Hopkins-Johnson, Poetry Slams have come along way in Arizona since he first attended an event in Mesa in 1997. He says back then, they slammed for change in a Kool-Aid plastic jug. This weekend, hundreds took part in the state’s first hosting of the Individual World Poetry Slam 2014.

Hopkins-Johnson also credited the Arizona Council on the Humanities who, through a grant, made bringing the IWPS to Phoenix a reality.

“They made it possible for more than 10 free events over the past couple of days and to bring this event to the community,” he said.
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