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A Fresh Face In The

Phoenix Poetry Scene

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Randy Morris, poet. Image by Jeff Moses.
Randy Morris, Phoenix Based AV Technician Turned Poet, Earned A Spot In The Individual World Poetry Slam Less Than A Year After Beginning Competition

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By Jeff Moses
Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 16, 2013 — Most people write some poetry in high school — whether on their own volition or assigned — and some take to it like a duck to water.

Randy Morris, a 25-year-old Phoenician, is not one of those who found a love of poetry through an assignment. Although it was his first exposure to rhythm and metre, he did not begin a path that has taken him to the Individual World Poetry Slam in Spokane, Wash., earlier this month until finding a home within the Phoenix metro poetry community a couple of years ago.

Morris has only been performing his poetry in competitive poetry slams for a little more than a year.

The public-performance inexperienced Morris, however, wasted no time taking cues from Phoenix’s best poets to hone his style and earn his way to the Individual World Poetry Slam. Although he didn’t do as well as he would have liked by finishing 65th, Morris, a Green Bay, Wis. native, properly represented the Phoenix metro.

With big plans for his poetry career, Morris is leaving his mark on both the local Phoenix poetry scene and the national competitive scene. He sat down with us just before his trip to Spokane for the Individual World Poetry Slam.

Modern Times Magazine: When did you start creating poetry?
Randy Morris: I started writing poetry in high school ... but I never really did anything with it. When I got out of high school I moved out to Mesa and started writing a little bit more,  Right after I moved away from Mesa, my twin moved out there and got heavily involved in the poetry community and I sort of followed along about two years after him.

MTM: What prompted you to begin getting more serious with your poetry?
Randy Morris: It was something that I had to do because there is so much shit going on and it was my way to get everything out and deal with stuff and then move on.

MTM: Do you define yourself by specific form of poetry?
Randy Morris: I mostly write free verse and I write that way because I hate structure. I fight against structure in all of my writing. So a lot of my stuff is very free verse and it seems to work somewhat well in slam, but as far as any topic, I love writing ‘love poetry.’

MTM: Why love poetry?
Randy Morris: It’s the one thing that I happen to know.

MTM: From the first poem you wrote, to the poetry you are preparing to read at the Individual World Poetry Slam what about your style has changed?
Randy Morris: Everything has changed, I never used a lot of metaphors when I started it was all very basic and just laying it out there. Now all of my stuff, I work well off metaphor, the way I write poems is once a I have a topic and really strong metaphor then I can write a poem out of it.

MTM: What brought you into competitive poetry?
Randy Morris: I was doing the open mic back when the open mic had 50 or 60 people showing up. When it was still on the front yard here at Lawn Gnome. So I was doing the open mic and I met Rowie (Shebala) and I met Jeremiah (Blue) and all of them encouraged me to come out to the slam. I came out and I liked it enough that I just kept coming for about a few months. Once I got a really really low score with a brand new poem that I absolutely loved and I was kind of done so I didn't show up for like 4 months. But then Copper State Poetry slam, my twin recruited me for his team and I fell in love with it all over again, its what I want to do.

MTM: So you’re fairly new to competition then?
Randy Morris: Yes, I’ve only been competing within the last year.

MTM: So how did you become the representative from Phoenix in the Individual World Poetry Slam?
Randy Morris: I showed up to one of the slams and found out it was a qualifier to determine the Phoenix representative. I took second place in the slam and it was my first time ever taking second. Usually I was eliminated within the first round, so I really started focusing on it and competing at every slam up until the slamoff.  In the slamoff I beat out both Tristan Marshall and Rowie Shebala to take second again, right behind Jeremiah Blue. Jeremiah couldn’t go so the slot became mine.

MTM: Any mixed feelings about taking second but sliding in anyway?
Randy Morris: No, it’s my first national competition so im just taking it as, I get to meet all these amazing poets from all over the place and I get to perform in brand new areas.

MTM: Are you bringing all new poems to the slam, or going with the stuff you’ve performed here?
Randy Morris: I have one brand new poem. I’m still trying to come up with a brand new, one-minute, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen and then my four minute and two minute are all stuff I’ve been doing here for the last two months.

MTM: Any concerns about leaving the friendly confines of Phoenix’s poetry scene for uncharted territory?
No, I figure the slams will be like most slams. Which seem to be welcoming from everything I’ve heard from people like Jeremiah and Rowie. As far as the open mics are concerned in a group of poets I’m not really concerned about it because from what I’ve seen so far poets anywhere are just as inviting.

MTM: What sorts of tips have you taken away from watching people like Rowie Shebala, Aaron Johnson, Jeremiah Blue, and the Phoenix national slam team?
Randy Morris: When I started performing I didn’t move on stage and I was very monotone. Everything was very montone, very metered there wasn’t much difference in my voice. There was no movement and I was terrified to be on the mic and I’m still terrified to be on the mic. But working with Rowie, working with Jeremiah, I’ve worked with Aaron all of them have been teaching me how to be a better performer. So I get big on stage like Aaron does and i move more like Jeremiah and Rowie and The Klute has been teaching me how to hit the exact lines that I need to hit.

MTM: So what do you think of the Valley’s poetry scene?
Randy Morris: The only people I know are from the Mesa poetry scene, because I started coming to poetry right as it moved into Lawn Gnome. I know The Klute and Lauren (Perry) who are both part of the Mesa scene and I know my twin. But outside of that I don’t know  a lot about what it was like out there. Here in Phoenix we have really big acts which is a lot about performance and performance is fine, while in Glendale it’s a little bit less about performance and a little bit more about the writing.

MTM: So do you fit in better with the writers or the performers?
Randy Morris: I’m much more of a writer than I am a performer. Im learning to be a performer but my stuff still works best on the page.

MTM: Why do you think the poetry scene has taken such a foothold at Lawn Gnome, and downtown?
Randy Morris: As far as Lawn Gnome, I think a lot of it has to do with Aaron being here. All of us were drawn to Aaron and he is an amazing poet and an amazing performer. As far as downtown, I feel like no one else in Phoenix really cares to have the really interesting arts community; people just want to go to work and go home and not really talk to people.

MTM: What is it about Aaron that makes him such a great performer?
Randy Morris: He was the first poet that I saw on stage that gave it everything he had and every time I watch him perform I’m completely enthralled. So I wanted to keep coming back and I wanted to learn from Aaron because he was the first poet who completely captured my entire attention.

MTM: What poets outside of Phoenix have influenced you?
Randy Morris: Buddy Wakefield is by far my favorite poet. But lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Shane Koyczan and Rudy Francisco. Jeremiah introduced me to Shane Koyczan’s work and Aaron told me to look up Rudy Francisco and while they're completely different writers, like Rudy Francisco has those amazing lines that leave you stunned like every line and Shane works better with metaphor like I do. So I’m drawn to both of them but my writing more imitates Koyczan for how I use metaphor.

MTM: What do you need to do to consider it a successful trip to the Individual World Poetry Slam?
Randy Morris: Really I think the fact that I made it to Spokane is successful for me. It’s my first year competing. I wasn't expecting any of this. What I’d like to do is try and make it to the final stage because if I make it to the final stage, that’s going to be exciting.

MTM: So you say poetry is what you want to do, what would be the zenith of “doing” poetry to you?
Randy Morris: I really want to win the individual world poetry slam. So I really want to win sometime within the next five years. But ultimately, I love poetry so much more than anything else right now that I want to be able to write and I want to be able to put my books out there for no other reason than to share this with people. Because my work has shifted so far from being entirely about me working through things to trying to put things out there to help other people work through stuff.

Jeff Moses is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at jmoses@moderntimesmagazine.com.
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