Story last updated at 10/23/2013 - 2:09 pm
Some of the poems at Woosh Kinaadeiyí's third annual poetry Grand Slam were funny. Others were political, touching on themes of racism, injustice, or violence against women. Some were songs.
The Grand Slam had seven contestants, all winners from poetry slams over the previous year. Each poet had three minutes in which to perform his or her poem. When they finished, volunteer audience members scored them from one to 10.
After the first round, the highest scoring four performed for a second round. The third and final round was a (friendly) showdown between the highest-scoring two poets, Ziggy Unzicker and Jacqueline Boucher.
In Juneau, though they're competitive, the slams are also an extremely supportive environment. They welcome "all ages, all abilities. Always," according to Woosh Kinaadeiyí's website. Before the performance, the audience chanted, after hosts Christy Namee Ericksen and Dee Jay DeRego, "It's about the poetry" (not the scores).
"Everything we write is a clumsy request that the world shine upon our faces and be gracious," Ericksen told the crowd.
One of the featured (non-competitive) performers of the evening, 13-year-old singer, songwriter, and guitarist Selma Houck, first became involved with the organization when she attended a spoken word class Ericksen taught at the Zach Gordon Youth Center. Houck said she's been making music "ever since I could talk" and began writing it down when she was 11.
"I love them," she said of the poetry slams. "I think they're amazing. They're a good opportunity to get out and do something that... I'd never done."
Ziggy Unzicker, this year's winner, said he first came to the poetry slams about two years ago. He wrote some poetry then, he said, but now he writes more, and he keeps both his audience and his performance in mind. He praised "the life in this place."
Unzicker read a poem (not) about "lovepeacejusticefreedom," a love letter to Juneau, and a poem examining the myriad meanings and expectations surrounding the word "stand."
"Dear Juneau," the second read. "I love the way you soak my clothes when I walk through the blueberry patch / the way you break through the southern side of trees in the morning / to clarify the stream in little bars and patches / ... the way you unfold your spiny leaves / and drive yourself into my skin, saying / keep me." (The full poem is available after this article.)
Anna Hoffman, who does creative writing workshops at Lemon Creek through UAS, read a poem about what she feels when she drives past the prison.
"Just write," was Hoffman's advice to would-be poets. "I feel like I've had writer's block for so long... you just have to sit down and write."
Woosh Kinaadeiyí board member and treasurer Bill Merk, who has published a book of poetry called "Bright Silence," said one of the most rewarding parts of the organization is watching younger poets grow.
Ericksen said that since incorporating as a nonprofit, the group has actually gotten more grassroots.
"Now with a dedicated group of people on the board... its had more of a diverse influence on our programming," she said. "The bigger we get, the more outreach we do and the more people reach out to us," she said.
Woosh Kinaadeiyí means "Parallel Paths" in Tlingit. It's "committed to diversity, inclusive community and empowering voice."
"Woosh Kinaadeiyí is the place that... gave me my voice before I even knew what that was," cohost DeRego told the crowd.
More than 150 people attended the slam.
And in a moment of word-love, here are a few more standout lines this reporter was able to scribble legibly:
"We are the first generation of participation-trophy prodigies." (Jackie Boucher)
"I preach to a choir that doesn't know they exist." (Penn Lamb)
"Mountains can maintain their strength, but even they are overrun by ice." (Anna Hoffman)
"God wrote my story when he was drunk enough to dance." (Dee Jay DeRego)
A poem from 3rd Annual Grand Slam Winner Ziggy Unzicker: Juneau, Alaska
I love the way you move
the way you settle into tidal zones
the way you bend in the wind
the way you arch your mossy back
in the wake of a glacier's icy pressure
the way you slip away
leaving stripes of raw mud and water
running down your side
I love the way you make us move asphalt and trade routes around you
tracing your foothills and mountain edges
the way you lift off into zephyrs
and dust the evening with your sultry pollen
the way you make little burrows and tree bank bedsides
the way you force your way nose first into the climbing cold streams
just to die in the clear shallow and raise the smell of your white flesh
to the drooping hemlock tops. Dear Juneau,
I love the way you fall and shatter
like crumbles of red dirt to grow life in your deadness
The way you pull up frost and snow around you
to muffle your angles and curves
I love the way you glide over ocean and air currents
the way you bleed on the moss,
leaving the blood and film of birth to soak in the rain.
The way you freeze into terrifying shapes
the way you tumble and thunder at night down deadly mountainsides
the way you flap your wings
from the bulbous tops of trees, sloughing little feathers onto the beach.
the way you swell with fireweed and lupine in the field
and buzz from flowers, each to each.
The way you seep into puddles spilling into puddles spilling into rivulets
that spill into the bay that spill into me
The way you soak my clothes when I walk through the blueberry patch
The way you break through the southern side of trees in the morning
to clarify the stream in little bars and patches
The way you call out with whines and grunts
and smell of musk in the brown meadow
the way you unfold your spiny leaves
and drive yourself into my skin, saying
The way you drop from the stem
and swallow yourself into worms and beetles
and scatter my garden into your fringes
I love the way you whistle through mine shafts,
and drip from the stone forms of old buildings.
I love the way you eat us up, Juneau.
I love the way you watch me from trees with black conceited eyes
I love the way you draw yourself up into the mountains
like a secret.
I love the way you drip from the teeth and the stem:
the way you blend your drinks
the way you listen and the way you invite listening.
Juneau, I don't know what to call you.
Juneau somedays I wish you'd just name me.
Juneau, when I had my first kiss,
you folded us both into your mossy lips.
I love the way you float on the air, heavy like a corpse.
I love the way you wash little shells from around my feet,
the way you cling to the rocks
and throw yourself on buoys
the way you skate the sandy floor of
the cold grey water
the way you crawl onto rocks
to die in the heat of low tide
the way you welcome me
with low hanging branches
and high-bush berries
and the danger
of looking too long too close
or looking not close enough.