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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 9, 2003

Poetry slammers put serious twists on words

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Selah Geissler, above, reads at a recent installment of the "First Thursdays" poetry slam at Studio 1; Denice Wong, bottom, was part of the audience. Geissler won the competition, in part, with some clever verse blasting an overbearing would-be suitor. She won $100 and a slot on a local team bound for the 2004 National Poetry Slam.

Photos by Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Quinn Bruce of Nu'uanu, one of the judges at the poetry slam, scores a competitor.
"First Thursdays" is as serious a slam poetry competition as you can find in Honolulu.

Host/organizer/two-time Wordstew champion Steve "Kealoha" Wong's larger goal for "First Thursdays" — besides providing a monthly spot for the best local slam poets to show their stuff — is to assemble a Hawai'i team good enough to win entry into the 2004 National Poetry Slam. The winners of the "First Thursdays" for May, June, July and August each receive $100 and a place on a local team for next year's "Superbowl of Slam Poetry" (Wong's description of NPS).

No surprise then, that nearly all of the slam artists taking the stage for last week's edition of "First Thursdays" were remarkably talented and rarely amateurish.

"You better get your keys out 'cuz I've got a lot of problems," said Liam Skilling, before delivering an amusing flow touching on, among other topics, rampant consumerism.

Audience members had been instructed beforehand to jangle their keys loudly if poets "disrespected" them by ignoring a three-minute time limit. "If you go longer than that, you better be good," Wong warned poets.

Always engaged, the audience wasn't afraid to obey Wong's second instruction to "let the poets know how you're feeling. Keep your energy up. Show 'em mad love." There were loud whoops and applause when a poet was on his or her game, and vocal choruses of "mmm-hmms" when folks agreed with a particular sentiment. When a judge offered a score for one poet that was lower than the masses expected, the crowd was quick to offer some serious boos and hisses.

The subject matter and opinions at times seemed to run a tad too similar — war, Republicans and Dubya: bad; sex, love, relationships: good, sometimes bad. Still, the execution of verse was often nicely varied and entertaining. Each of the evening's three finalists deserved their spots in the second-round showdown, but there were many others worthy of joining them.

Overall winner Selah Geissler (who delivered a nuclear-powered blast of brilliant verse eviscerating an overbearing would-be suitor) and runner-up Chinua Thelwell (whose own intelligent flow hilariously whacked the post-9/11 tendency to blame terrorism for all our ills) could have easily traded places for first place.

"First Thursdays" are held in the large, airy performance area of visual and performing arts gallery Studio 1.

Plastic patio chairs and cushioned wicker chairs framed dozens of beach mats placed on the floor surrounding the stage. Off to the sides of the moodily lit venue, a few votive-topped tables found instant use. Colored plumeria were scattered about the stage and mats. Incense wafted through the room as Sisters In Sound's DJ Zita provided a light Brazilian-flavored beat before showtime, and tasty spins between poets. A small bar served mixed drinks, beer, wine and soft drinks.

"First Thursdays" happens again on June 5. Mark your calendars now.

Got a night spot or club event we should check out? Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8005.

• • •

What: "First Thursdays" slam poetry competition.

Where: Studio 1, 1 N. King St., (Nu'uanu Avenue and N. King Street), 550-8700, 550-8701.

When: 8-11 p.m., first Thursday of each month.

Cover: $3 before 8 p.m., $5 afterward.

Younger than 21 OK? Yes.

Age of crowd: 20s-40s.

Dress code: Casual.

Attire we saw: Mostly casual. On men: print and solid tees, sports jerseys, sweaters, dress shirts, polos, jeans, baseball and skullcaps, bandannas, sneaks. On women: tanks, blouses, peasant blouses, tube tops, jeans, berets, sneaks.

Our arrival/departure: 7:30 p.m./11 p.m.

What we drank: Corona longneck ($4 each).

Peak crowd while there: About 400.

Queue?: Not at 7:30 p.m.

Tips: Doors open at 7 p.m. Arrive early. Seats (except for beach mats on floor) are gone by 8 p.m. And leave the kids at home: There is much adult language and subject matter.

Overheard conversation of the night: "Damn ... I wouldn't want to be this dude." — A couple of audience members discussing the dilemma facing the poet who followed the slam's eventual winner, Selah Geissler.

• • •

Night notes ...

Tonight's "Goddess" party at Indigo Eurasian Cuisine sounds interesting — a mix of DJs (Toki, Hanuman, VRN, Ananta) spinning dub, breakbeat and drum-n-bass sprinkled with the flavors of India, Asia and Arabia. Also on the bill: ethnic dance by the versatile Willow Chang and Vedic storytelling by Kalia. 10 p.m.-2 a.m., 21 and older only. Cover is $5.

Matty Liu and The Main Ingredient are planning another North Shore party at Haleiwa Joe's tonight, with hip-hop, soul and dancehall from DJs 45 and Mr. I.N.C., 10 p.m.-2 a.m., 21 and older. Cover is $5.

Catch The Jerome James Collective's chilled alt-jazz stylings at its weekly Saturday gig at Studio 1, 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Cover is $5.

Have you had to park behind McKinley Car Wash, too? Kona Street nightspot Reign is packing 'em in on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Watch this space for a Night Stuff visit soon.