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Spokane’s thriving slam poetry scene has brought the medium’s world championships home

click to enlarge Isaac Grambo helped bring the event to Spokane. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Isaac Grambo helped bring the event to Spokane.

It’s no secret that Spokane has a thriving performance poetry scene. At the standing-room-only January edition of the Spokane Poetry Slam, host Isaac Grambo found himself overwhelmed with prospective readers: 26 overeager versifiers clamored for a chance at honor and glory and fifty bucks, flocking to the stage and all but drowning Grambo in the throng.

But Grambo had a secret himself — a secret he was eager to divulge to the 100 or so audience members packed into Scout, a bar and restaurant set up especially to accommodate the all-ages show. After he’d managed the intricate sign-up, he turned to the microphone and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, Spokane Poetry Slam is proud to announce that Spokane has been selected to host the next Individual World Poetry Slam, October 3rd through the 5th. We’ve just signed the contracts and we’re good to go.”

The room erupted in a raucous cheer, and at a front-row table, Inkera Oshun of Charlotte, N.C., beamed a beatific smile. The treasurer of the nonprofit Poetry Slam International, the umbrella organization charged with selecting the host city, Oshun mouthed “Congratulations!” across the table to Karen Mobley of the Spokane Arts Fund and Ben Brast of VisitSpokane, the tourism and convention folks who help plan major events in the city.

“This is a real coup for Spokane,” Grambo says, “Most of the winning cities tend to be in the East — Boston has hosted a couple of times — but it’s been a long time since a small city in the West put together a winning bid.”

The Individual World Poetry Slam was created 10 years ago “to pull poets from both certified poetry slam venues around the world, and individual poets (who) would compete to declare who was THE best poet in the world,” according to the PSI website.

“In the world of performance poetry, this is a big deal — the best poets, bringing their best work,” Grambo said. “And it’s a chance for our local writers to get involved, without having to travel halfway around the world.”

The host city is responsible for finding venues and securing housing for more than 200 visitors and 72 competitors. “There’s a lot work to do between now and October, but everybody’s excited, and a lot of the planning was laid out in the bid,” said Grambo, who credits Mobley and Brast with helping him prepare the complicated but ultimately successful bid.

There’s still a lot of work to do. Those 200 visitors will need hotel rooms, side venues will be booked to offer preliminary bouts and workshops, and the finals will require a hall that holds at least 750 rabid fans. “This is visceral poetry,” Grambo said.  “It’s meant to get an immediate emotional response, so this is performance, this is theater, this is like a rock show for the spoken word.

It sounds like Spokane’s dirty little secret — that it’s one of the most vibrant cities in the country for performance poetry — is about to be broadcast to the world. Stay tuned. 

Individual World Poetry Slam Championships • Thu, Oct. 3 through Sat, Oct. 5 • spokanepoetryslam.org • More details available at facebook.com/spokanepoetryslam

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