Four poets competed in the Rocktown Slam Wednesday night at the Arkansas Arts Center for a chance to represent Arkansas at the Individual World Poetry Slam in Phoenix in October. After the poets Kita Marshall, Greer Joplin, Anna Hannaford and Amoja “MoMan” Sumler performed a four-minute poem, a one-minute poem, a three-minute poem and a two-minute poem for the five randomly selected audience-member judges, a tie remained between Sumler and Kita. Following a round of three sudden-death haikus, the judges awarded Sumler first-place. His winning lines:
George Bush said they hate
Us for our freedom. Removed
Freedom. Hatred remained.
“I used to be a martial artist,” Sumler said. “And in the style they taught us, which was Aiki Jujutsu, there are four levels of mastery. The first level is unconscious incompetence. The second level is conscious incompetence. The third level is conscious competence. The fourth level is unconscious competence. I feel like my poems today were threes. They were consciously competent. I really had to be checked into it. By the four, you’re balancing your checkbook and it’s just magic.”
But mere threes were enough to secure Sumler his first Rocktown Slam win, notwithstanding his 13-year tenure as Rocktown’s slam master. Sumler also works as an educating artist on Arkansas Arts Council’s Arts in Education Roster, as well as the Arts on Tour Roster. He’ll be lecturing in Los Angeles at the end of the month about spoken word as a form of advocacy for the Long Beach Pedagogy Conference.
“What I’m interested in is seeing poetry grow in a positive way that’s healthy and helpful,” Sumler said. “At least at Rocktown, all of our poetry is tied to activism.”
Many of the poems throughout the night touched on feminist themes, as in one of Anna Hannaford’s poems – “Sometimes, men, the verbal confirmation of your libidos is enough to disgust me because I wonder if anything you do is consensual.” After host Heather Polly announced one judge’s score of 7.5 for the poem, an audience member shouted, “Fuck the patriarchy!”
Other poems wandered into more general realms like those of language, high school or death. Kita Marshall, for example, performed one poem about women in a moonlit woods:
“When boys say we are ‘moon-stricken’ I remind them why women go into the woods. Our cycles follow the moon because we once ran with wolves. Little Red Riding Hood told you. It’s why I smile with all of my teeth – to show you how big they are.”
But at the end of the night, it was Sumler who earned the right to travel to Phoenix, though he said he’ll have to improve before he makes the trip.
“I’ve definitely got to put a little more effort into it to get it to where it flows more naturally, not just to the point where I know the poem but to the point where I am the poem,” he said.
Stage four, that is – unconscious competence.