On winning the “National Poetry Slam” Twice


Eternal Graffiti

So one of my favourite documentaries is called Word Wars it was released in 2004 and follows 4 characters as they prepare for the National Scrabble Competition. I saw this documentary in the fall of 2008, I will explain later why that date is relevant. The Documentary is hilarious, and poignant at the same time because there are some real human elements mixed in with the odd ball characters. Add that to the fact that its the “national scrabble competition!” which before watching the documentary I did not even know was a thing.

In 2007 I started slamming, long story short I made the Slam Charlotte team, and headed to my first national poetry competition in Austin TX. We won the comp, but this post is not really about the slam, its about what happened when I got back to charlotte

Absolutely Nothing,

It’s a strange feeling to be riding high on saturday night, just won Nationals, at the finals after party feeling like a rockstar. Then go back to your job on Monday and have your manager immediately hit you with…

“hey so while you were on vacation last week, your work has piled up so please focus and get it done”

In my head I was like “B***h I’m a national poetry slam champ…..F** your reports” but the way my bank account was set up, I just sighed and mumbled “cool I’m on it” 

Which brings me back to the documentary, the single biggest thing that blew my mind was the prize money the winner received. Among some other things, the winner received 20k dollars!! for being the best scrabble player!!! (what?) but for being on the best poetry team in the world (arguably) I think I came home with a couple hundred bucks.

The next year in 2008 I was on Slam Charlotte again, traveled to madison, won nationals again. Went back to work on monday, now granted I was able to book shows off of the “title” I did a West Coast tour with Bluz and Los, I did some shows in London and Amsterdam, Brazil, etc…It was cool, doing dive bars and coffee houses…It was cool traveling internationally and feeling like I was doing it big.

But Scorsese never called, the writers of 30 rock never hit my agent and said, “we heard you are one of the best poets in the nation, and we are looking for some guest writers” hell I did not even have a writing agent!

But my manager still wanted those reports, my landlord still wanted the rent, and nobody let me in the club free cause I was a 2x national champ! (and I did not even get close to 20k in prize money)

I see the landscape shifting however

People who know me know that I work in investment banking (I know) but one skill I have really honed is noticing trends in the market, and being able to react to those trends. I have not slammed since 2008 but I have kept a pulse on everything, poetry is changing, our subculture is changing.

So what if we banded together and drove our subculture to a different space, a bigger space. I have believed wholeheartedly since I touched down in Austin TX, that the poetry community houses some of the most brilliant writers in our generation, and that given the right opportunities we could shut a network down or more, much more.

That winning a national poetry slam, made your phone ring off the hook, I want poets to be able to say “Damn Shonda Rhimes people keep calling…I wish she would stop blowing up my phone”

Lawrence Ferlinghetti said “poetry is the only Eternal Graffiti….”

Let’s continue to push each other to leave our mark, our Graffiti, painted into the minds of a generation.

As Rachel Maddow always says – Watch this space!

– Mike Simms