Locals may remember the monthly poetry slam that was held at the Mobius in Ashland in the early 2000s through 2008. Since that entertainment venue closed, the poetry slam sort of fizzled and has been dormant for some time.
But it has now re-awakened at Northwest Pizza and Pasta at 1585 Siskiyou Blvd., under its new ownership of Robin DeMoss, John Bohn and Morgan George. Rogue Poetry Slam host T-Poe approached George about holding the poetry slam at the pizza parlor at an open mic in February.
"I said, 'Yeah, why not? I'll try anything once.' But there was something about T-Poe's energy; he's a Vietnam vet and so is my father. When you have the opportunity to say thank you, to the people who made it possible for us to have the freedom to have a poetry slam, you have to take it. I thought, 'I have to give this guy a shot,' " said George.
"Nature is where I came from.
Nature is what I am. Such peace of mind I find by knowing
nature is where I'm going."
In March the first slam was held, and it was extremely well-received, according to T-Poe and George.
"I approached about nine different businesses and three welcomed the idea. Northwest Pizza was the best fit for our slam. They have been very open and agreeable, I just love their support of this," said T-Poe.
"We just happen to have the venue, time and space, and I think it's really cool," said George.
According to George, about 75 people came to the very first poetry slam, which exceeded both T-Poe and George's expectations, since they realized after organizing it that it was right in the middle of finals week for Southern Oregon University students. The newly renovated pizza parlor has a stage, a fireplace and lots of seating for an audience. The pool table that used to be in front of the fireplace for years is gone, along with the wall that previously divided the restaurant, allowing for more seating. George turns off all the flat-screen TVs so that there are no distractions from the poets.
"When we do the slams, the TVs go off, the games stop and the audience is really respectful," said T-Poe.
According to George, T-Poe invested his own money in a sound system for the event, spending thousands of dollars, then offered to let George use it whenever he wants.
"He comes in all the time, he tries to over-tip us, he buys people drinks, he's so giving and caring," said George of T-Poe.
In T-Poe's words, a "slam" is the art of competitive performance poetry.
"The performance can be nothing more than the passion with which you perform your piece," said T-Poe.
Signup for the slam starts at 8:30 p.m., and the competition starts at 9 p.m. Linda Wolf works the door collecting $3 from everyone who arrives.
"Sweet Linda The Door Girl is an integral part of the slam, she handles taking money at the door and doubles as my body guard. The kids are happy to pay the $3," said T-Poe.
Gift certificates from local businesses are donated to the slam and awarded to the top four finishers. George usually donates several gift certificates to Northwest Pizza, and Bloomsbury Books is a regular donor, as well. The winner of the slam takes home the kitty, the total amount collected by Wolf.
"It's not about getting stuff. It's just something that makes it a little more fun. It gives the kids something to shoot for," said T-Poe.
Poets are judged by five judges selected from the audience, who are asked to leave their personal bias at home. Scores are from zero to 10 using the 0.5 decimal to reduce the chance of ties. Judges rate on performance or presentation and on the content of the poem. All at once judges hold up their score when asked by the Slam Master. The competition has three rounds. At the end of round one, the scores are compared and about half of the poets continue into round two.
"The points aren't the point. The poetry is the point. That's a quote I picked up from Marla (host of the former Mobius slam, Marla Love)," said T-Poe.
Aptly named, T-Poe actually got his name after winning the first poetry slam he attended at the Mobius in 2006. On the signup sheet he impulsively wrote "T-Poe," his legal name being Tom.
Called "Poet" by friends and family, it was not necessarily always an enduring term. When T-Poe arrived at his first poetry slam in Ashland, the Slam Master was Ocho.
"Ocho called me up as T-Poe on stage, and I won that slam. That's who I've become, it's who I am," said T-Poe.
As a veteran of the Vietnam War, T-Poe started writing poetry about three years after returning home from the war and found it very healing. For 20 years most of his poetry had to do with love, he said; it wasn't until later that he was able to write prose inspired by his harrowing experience in the war. Probably most known for his pieces about Vietnam, T-Poe now writes about his environment, his friends and the things that inspire him.
After winning that first slam in 2006, T-Poe was hooked. He kept coming back, winning the next seven slams, when Love and Ocho asked him to be Slam Master.
"I wanted to host, but I wasn't very good at it. I'm not that good now — my words don't come easily unless I can write them down. So, it's good for me to be in front of people and speak," said T-Poe.
There are almost no rules as to the content of the poetry, but no hate speech is allowed, T-Poe firmly states.
"If I hear that, I will force you to kick my ass," said T-Poe, who added, "with the poets we had, none of them said anything a 4-year-old couldn't hear," speaking of the last slam.
As Slam Master, T-Poe usually will start off the competition warming up the crowd with some of his works but reminds those in attendance, "I am not the Rogue Poetry Slam, Northwest Pizza is not the poetry slam, you are the poetry slam."