Arts Desk

D.C. Wins the National Poetry Slam for the First Time

Beltway Wins NationalsSnap hard for this one: For the first time, D.C.'s delegation to the National Poetry Slam has brought home the gold.

Last week, 72 poetry-slam teams convened in Oakland, Calif., for a five-day competition culminating in a final showdown on Saturday, Aug. 9. There, the Beltway Poetry Slam team beat out the three other finalists: Urbana (New York City), Slam Nuba (Denver), and Team SNO (New Orleans), the reigning champion since 2012.

"There was absolutely no expectation that we would win, but looking back, I think we were able to solidify first place because the range of poems and voices for our finals night was dynamic," says Sarah Lawson, the founder and slam master of the Beltway Poetry Slam. The team's winning poems included a three-person piece on "how America white-washes names and erases immigrant narratives" and one of only a few confessional poems in the competition, which earned G. Yamazawa the highest score of the night.

The members of the winning team—Elizabeth Acevedo (who won the local finals in May), Clint Smith, Yamazawa, Pages Matam, and Roscoe Burnems—made it through several local elimination rounds earlier this year to qualify for the national team. In the Oakland competition, each poem was scored on a 10-point scale by five random audience members. The three middle scores from each poet's turn in each of four rounds were added up to determine the team's final score.

It's the second jewel added to the D.C. slam poetry crown this summer; last month, the DC Youth Slam Team, coached by Acevedo and Matam, won the international Brave New Voices youth poetry competition in Philadelphia. "I think our scene is really propelled by the energy of DC Youth Slam Team...and that gave us the extra inspiration to take it all the way," Lawson says.

Photo courtesy of Beltway Poetry Slam

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