Bringing back slam poets to local microphone

Spokane Slam Poetry restarts downtown poetry competitions

People cheer as a lone poet takes the stage. The tension builds as a voice echoes over the audience. The voice gets louder and louder, sharing the poet’s deepest thoughts and convictions. The crowd cheers again with more enthusiasm for the poet now that they have heard his work.

The Spokane Poetry Slam is back and being held monthly at Scout Tavern starting Nov. 18.  The event will continue every third Sunday of each month.

The Poetry Slam is all about competitive performance poetry, said Isaac Grambo, the event manager of the Spokane Poetry Slam, a poet himself. Each poet who competes has three minutes on stage to perform their poem.

“It can’t be anything by Emily Dickinson; it has to be their own,” Grambo said. “We’ll have chosen judges at random off the street. We don’t use professional judges; we just pull five people from the audience coming in.”

The judges score each poet after their round with a score from one to 10, 10 being the highest. Then, the highest and lowest score of each competitor is dropped, and their three middle scores are added. There are two rounds, with a break in between in which a published poet will occasionally perform.

Some poets make it past the first round, some do not.

“If there are seven [poets], all seven will go through to the next round,” he said. “But if there are 12 to 15, we will cut it in half.”

Chris Cook, a regular attendee and competitor in Spokane Poetry Slam, said the overall experience is worth it every time.

“It’s a great, fulfilling, positive experience. It’s nice to have a venue to be able to perform your poetry, [since] most poetry readings are sedate with little applause or no applause,” he said. “With slam poetry you can convey exactly what you intended [and] you are hearing live poetry from the poets themselves.”

Slam poetry is a kind of poetry where the emphasis is on the spoken word, rather than the written aspect of it.

Senior Curtis Gatley, a theology major who regularly attends the Poetry Slam and other poetry readings, said that slam poetry is a style all its own and can change from city to city.

“It is much more accessible, it is much more subjective, and it is much more universal at the same time because it is often emotional,” Gatley said. “It can really have moments of raw emotion. You don’t need to dissect it, you can understand it as it is.”

Gatley said he enjoys many things about poetry in general.

“Even if it’s not the details, you get to learn someone’s story. You get to know them,” he said. “It is often the case that we find in our own lives, there is a deep satisfaction in finding someone else who knows the words written on your heart.”

Slam poetry started in the ‘80s, and has slowly become recognizable nationwide. However, Grambo said that slam poetry had not been a very visible part of Spokane until the Spokane Poetry Slam started. A competition involving slam had been started last year, but it had somewhat died down by the time Grambo moved to town in January this year.

“A lot of poets that had come to the event before were ready to come back [when the Poetry Slam started],” Grambo said. “[The event] is something that gets people interested in performance poetry.”

There is also a weekly event related to the poetry slam at Neato Burrito downtown, called Broken Mic. Poets are encouraged to come and read in a noncompetitive environment. It is similar to the Poetry Slam, but does not have the competition aspect and allows quite a bit more freedom for the poet.

Grambo said he was very fortunate to find a place to host the Poetry Slam as quickly as he did.

“One of the poets who worked at Scout talked to the manager there, and they actually contacted me about hosting it there,” he said. “It’s nice, it’s indoors, and it can be all ages, which is really really nice.”

Grambo said that this event will be for all ages, and anyone is welcome to come. However, content will not be censored and discretion is advised.

Scout Tavern is located at 1001 W. First Ave., and the Poetry Slam starts at 8:30 p.m Nov. 18. Sign-ups for competing in the slam will be at 8 p.m. It costs $5 per competitor and there is a $5 suggested donation for audience members.

Meghan Dellinger Staff Writer

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Lit reading complements homecoming festivities

People packed the Bryan Oliver gallery and the adjacent hallway, all listening intently to the soft, soothing voices of poets echoing throughout the building. Their words flowed together under the dim lighting, creating an ambiance of relaxation and peace.

Professor of English Laurie Lamon, senior English lecturer Thom Caraway and alumna Lisa Flesher, ’81, read some of their poetry on Saturday, Oct. 6 in the Lied Art Center. The event was scheduled as part of the Homecoming activities for the week.

Caraway said he is excited about the university’s promotion of the reading.

“We have previously had a few readings like this throughout the year that were moderately well-attended and moderately well-advertised,” he said. “This year, [the poetry reading] is part of homecoming festivities. It’s exciting being able to reach a wider audience than we normally get. They did a great job with it this year. It’s a good showcase for Laurie and I, and good for the alumna [Flesher].”

Flesher currently lives in Oklahoma City with her husband. She has been published in numerous journals and has read her poetry at the National Arts Club in New York City. She is best known for her contributions to the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, and she is now the co-chief poetry editor there. She is nearing completion of a book of her poetry.

“I’m just so privileged to be here with an audience like this, and with Thom and Laurie,” she said at the end of her set.

Flesher read a variety of poems, such as “Blue Flax”, “Under the Influence: A Poem for Empty Nesters”, and “Meditating with the Dogs”.

After being introduced by professor of English Leonard Oakland, who emceed the reading, Lamon took the stage to read next.

Lamon said she has always been a writer, ever since she was a little girl. She mostly writes about animals, and said her students will often send her pictures and videos of animals because they know how much she enjoys them.

“I was very serious about it at a very young age,” Lamon said. “I was always drawn to poetry. Writing for me has been a way to expand intellectual horizons.”

Lamon has been at Whitworth University since 1981 in various capacities, and she said she appreciates the chance to get to be a part of the event.

“This is a liberal arts university, and the arts belong to all of us,” she said. “If people have never come to a poetry reading before, they can have a misperception. It’s a beautiful way to highlight the arts.”

Caraway said he wrote his first story in second grade, and he has been seriously studying the craft of writing since the mid 90s. His poems have been in various journals, and his first poetry collection, “A Visitor’s Guide to North Dakota”, was published in 2007.

“I think [writing] is trying to convey essential experience, trying to share something with the audience,” he said. “That’s the primary source of context and tension and satisfaction, for me as a writer.”

Lamon said she was excited for the opportunity to share art with Whitworth.

“If you haven’t attended one of the literary readings, come,” she said. “There are wonderful speakers, [and] it’s wonderful when people from other disciplines get to enjoy this as well.”

Caraway agrees.

“Everybody should come,” he said. “Poetry is good for your soul, good for your mind and heart.”

Meghan Dellinger Staff Writer

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Book review: Harry Potter and The Casual Vacancy — Wait, What?

J.K. Rowling has moved from children-friendly fantasy to the grim world of poverty, politics and scandal in her new book, “The Casual Vacancy,” released on Sept. 27.

Rowling has sold more than 450 million copies of her Harry Potter series, making her the world’s first billionaire author and richer than the Queen of England. This success was a substantial leap from her starting point as a clinically depressed single parent surviving on state handouts, according to the Hindustan Times. This humble beginning is a greater influence on her new book for adults than it was on the whimsical fantasy world of Harry Potter.

"The Casual Vacancy” takes place in a fictional, small English town, reminiscent of those in which Rowling spent her youth. The town of Ragford is shook to the britches when parish councilman Barry Fairbrother dies. Not because Fairbrother was dearly beloved, but because of the empty chair in the parish council he left behind. Middle class villagers plot and war with one another to elect someone sympathetic to their cause. Each with their own agenda of what to do with the Fields, a poor neighborhood outside of their quaint village.

In the framework of this rather dull conflict, Rowling explores themes such as single parenthood, prostitution, adolescent lust and heroin addiction. Though the characters, to varying degrees, are monstrous, the plot dim, and the themes dark, the book has been described as quite comical — a dark comedy rather than a postmodern reflection of middle class politics.

The Guardian’s critic, Theo Tait, said it was "no masterpiece, but it's not bad at all: intelligent, workmanlike, and often funny."

Though the humor, being cynical and Britishly dry, may not be enough to swing the book away from crushing depravity.

New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani said, "The real-life world she has limned in these pages is so willfully banal, so depressingly clichéd that 'The Casual Vacancy' is not only disappointing — it's dull."

If the reader doesn’t find the huffing and puffing of depressingly small-minded townsfolk dull, then there’s nothing to worry about, nothing but the utter lack of likeable characters that is. The success of “The Casual Vacancy” is going to have more to do with the name on the cover than the teenage temper tantrum that is its 500 pages.

When the title of her new book was released in April, it made international news. When the cover image was released in July it made an even greater stir, to the extent of design “gurus” being hired to analyze the cover’s mysterious design. Reporters had to sign stacks of paperwork to simply touch a manuscript, even the publishers weren’t allowed to read it, according to The Guardian. “The Casual Vacancy” has arrived with as much gossip, speculation and secrecy as a presidential election.

Rowling’s new book sold over a million pre-order copies based on her name alone. To die hard fans, this book has more hype than the second coming, but in the end, it may be overwhelmingly disappointing.

Luke Eldredge Staff Writer

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Writer speaks on searching for God through doubt

In her junior year of college, Andrea Palpant Dilley scraped the Christian fish decal off the bumper of her Plymouth hatchback, a symbol of her discontent with the church and foreshadowing her eventual departure from it.

Dilley, a documentary writer, director and producer, read from her recent book, “Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt,” in the Weyerhaeuser Hall Robinson Teaching Theatre on Sept. 21. Her book is the memoir of her abandonment and subsequent return to faith, God and the Church.

Dilley was raised in Kenya, the daughter of Quaker medical missionaries. She grew up visiting patients that died the next day and attending funerals. Even the hospital morgue was only 50 feet from her front door. Her later childhood was spent in the Pacific Northwest as a member of a committed Presbyterian church. For college, she stayed in the Northwest, attending Whitworth where she obtained degrees in English literature, writing and Spanish.

“She was someone who other students looked up to, which was a very unique position,” said Maggie Wolcott, Whitworth English professor and former classmate of Dilley. “She was very kind, with a sarcastic edge.”

Being surrounded by intelligent, conscientious Christians gave Dilley room to struggle with faith and God. She asked questions that vex doubters and believers alike: Why does God seem so distant? Why does the church feel so dysfunctional? Why does God allow suffering?

At age 23, Dilley walked out of the Church with no intention of going back. For two years Dilley wanted nothing to do with faith or God.

Yet at age 25, Dilley found herself returning to the Church for the same reasons she left.

“I had to believe in God to believe in justice, which is anchored in objective morality,” Dilley said.

Senior Shaina Whittlesey said that doubts in the faith are often seen as something to be ashamed of and thus not shared.

“I liked the honesty she used when talking about doubt,” said Whittlesey.

Dilley said she believes that doubt belongs in the sanctuary of Church. All her questions belong in the Church; it is the only place that offered her the space to search for God.

“I’ll always have demons, but I might as well take my demons to church,” Dilley said. “Sitting in church every Sunday, my doubt is my desire — to touch the untouchable, to possess the presence of God,” Dilley said.

Luke Eldredge Staff Writer

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