HawaiiSlam celebrating its fifth successful year
By Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Kawehi Haug
HawaiiSlam, this state's only poetry slam and the largest in the nation, will celebrate five years of verbal and vocal (in the outspoken sense) articulation Thursday at its monthly First Thursdays event.
The slam, which can draw more than 600 people each month, will double as its annual grand-slam finals show where poets will battle each other for a spot on the four-person team that will represent Hawai'i in the National Poetry Slam to be held this year in Madison, Wis.
The show will feature guest poet Sekou tha Misfit, a two-time National Poetry Slam champion who has performed for Maya Angelou and P. Diddy and has made a number of television appearances including guest spots on HBO's "Def Poetry Jam."
We asked HawaiiSlam founder and the state's unofficial slam poet laureate, Kealoha, five questions:
Q. First Thursdays is the largest registered poetry slam in the country, and now it's celebrating its fifth year of existence. Is this the pinnacle, or does it get better?
A. It can only get better from here. The way I see it, we're still babies. Five years is very young compared to the legacies that other slams around the world have built. Our community will only get stronger and stronger with time, so expect to see even better writing and performances as our collective experience grows.
Q. Why do you suppose the Honolulu community has embraced slam poetry so enthusiastically?
A. There's probably a large number of reasons for this. But there are a few that come to mind:
1. Local Hawaiian culture is all about the oral tradition, so we have a history of listening to what others have to say.
2. We celebrate multiculturalism and tolerance in the Islands, which is necessary in any slam community.
3. We've been supported by all the newspapers, TV stations, local literature publishers and other media outlets since the very beginning.
4. Honolulu has been undergoing an artistic renaissance, and we've been there since the start of it. It's a strange coincidence, but we started First Thursdays a month before First Fridays, so the two have always gone hand in hand.
5. The poetry at our shows provides a full range of emotions. We'll make you laugh, cry, yell out in excitement, and maybe even fall in love (I can't tell you how many people have met their significant others while attending one of our shows). And we've always had DJs, live artists and even massages in the lounge, so there's something for everyone.
Q. What was it about the art form that hooked you?
A. The main thing that hooked me as an audience member was that I always learned something new when I attended a slam. What makes the art form so brilliant is that the poets are speaking about intelligent stuff while delivering their words in a way that is truly entertaining. It's "edutainment" at its best. As a slam poet, I've found the art form to be the best way for me to communicate with the world — in much the same way that a painter finds painting, and that a dancer finds dancing.
Q. Do you think slam poetry will eventually lose its appeal, or is it here to stay?
A. It is very much here to say. In the past six years, I've visited more than 100 schools, libraries and community centers throughout the state, getting the next generation stoked on the art form. Those new audiences and poets keep injecting new energy into the community, so it has become a self-sustaining entity. HawaiiSlam has also gained official 501(c)(3) nonprofit status through Poetry Slam Inc., so we'll be able to get even more support down the road from grants, foundations and private donors.
Q. You're preparing for the annual grand slam finals, where you'll pick winners to attend the National Poetry Slam, where Hawai'i will be represented for the fifth time. How have our local teams been received in the past?
A. Oh, man, they love us up there. Probably because our teams in the past have shared so much genuine aloha from the beginning. As far as our poetry goes, they appreciate our messages and our delivery styles. After our first year where we just missed (winning) by one-tenth of a point, the HawaiiSlam team has always made it into the semi-finals (top 20 out of 75 teams in the tournament). As an individual, I had the honor of placing eighth out of the entire field of 350 poets at last year's competition. But like I said earlier, we're still babies. Give us some more time and we'll keep getting better!
Reach Kawehi Haug at email@example.com.