If you attended the 7th Annual Spoke‘n’Heard, hosted by UC Merced’s Hip Hop Movement this past Saturday, then you heard some shit that touched your soul. Yeah, it was that deep.
The night started off with a sizeable crowd, definitely upbeat and ready for some poetry. All poets sat on the right of the stage, waiting for their name to be called. The audience sat directly in front of the stage and 5 audience members were chosen at random to judge the competition. The Hip Hop Movement set a generous prize of $100 for the poet who won first place and $50 for second place.
Hosted by Sam Pierstorff, the #Ninja Poet, there was never a dull moment. Before beginning, Sam reminded judges to “be hard,” in order to prevent “Score Creep.” “Score Creep” is when judges, after hearing several poets perform, offer much more generous scores than they did in the beginning. The toughest judge of the night was someone who Sam amicably nicknamed “Rick Foxx.” Sure enough, his consistent 5.0 scores slowly creeped up to a solid 8.5 by the end of the night.
One after another, twelve poets walked up to the stage where they sung, hollered, whispered, and cried out their tangles of words. From “tongue-drums” beating on fresh skin to “the greasy hands of puberty, no subject was off limits. Round One eliminated seven poets, leaving only five to compete for the grand prize.
Following a short intermission, Sam read some of his poems from his book, Growing Up in Someone Else’s Shoes. He warned the audience that most of his poems in the book were “about [his] balls.” Though sometimes, they were about someone else’s balls hanging too close to your head as you try to bench-press 300 pounds. A round of laughs later, Sam closed off his reading with a hand-stand and some modest flexing. He transitioned back to host, joking that he should’ve brought a hat to mark his switch from poet to host. Sam then announced the final five constants and then round two had begun. The final five battled it out armed only with a mic. By the end of the night, poets were weaving the word “analbeads” into their carefully constructed creations, all in hope of winning that cash money! (Don’t get it? Sometimes you just gotta be there!)
The audience provided the drumroll as Sam announced first and second place. Second place! Second place goes to…(insert your own drumroll, please)…Juniper Sprague (16) from Turlock, CA! A seemingly mild sixteen year old, Juniper crushed the competition with her fiery words about her weekly struggle with mental illness while icing the burn with a letter to her mother, father, brother, sister, and self. Skimming past Juniper, with only a 0.3 difference in scores, was first place winner, Tanisha Quiche McClain (32) hailing from North Carolina. Tanisha served the crowd a platter of light, whimsical poems and finished strong with a poem questioning what a slam poem really was. Congratulations were distributed and the event came to a smooth close.
From the host to the performers to the art held by Merced’s Multicultural Center, the event was flooded with positive, creative energy. Every year, Spoke’n’Heard only gets better and better; it’s almost impossibly impossible to wait for next year’s!
Photo Credit: Justin Gonzalez