The 25th Annual National Poetry Slam took part in Oakland, CA from August 4- 9 and welcomed 72 poetry slam teams from across the country for five days of competition, poetry and workshops. On Saturday August 9th, the event culminated with the top four teams from the week – New York’s Urbana, Denver’s Slam Nuba (2011 champions), New Orlean’s Team SNO (2012 and 2013 champions), and DC’s Beltway.— competing for the title of National Slam Champion, which Beltway won, taking the title for DC’s adult slam team for the first time in history.
Members of the 2014 Beltway team are Clint Smith, George Yamazawa, Pages Matam, Roscoe Burnems and Elizabeth Acevedo, who won the local title of Grand Slam Champion. Members of this team are renowned poets both locally and on a global scale: they include members who have done TED Talks, performed at the White House, have viral videos on YouTube and have traveled internationally as performance poets and teaching artists. Team members Elizabeth Acevedo and Pages Matam are also coaches for the DC Youth Slam Team, who made history in July by winning the international Brave New Voices competition. The victory of both the Beltway and DC Youth Slam Team are indicative of the strength of the poetry community in DC.
Beltway Poetry Slam was developed in 2010 by current slam master, Sarah D. Lawson, with the help of nationally renowned artists Chris August, Sonya Renee Taylor and Natalie E. Illum. The monthly show features two rounds of friendly competition, open to any community member wishing to engage in the “bar game” of poetry slam: a competitive poetry event where random judges in the audience score the poems that go up on stage. The even also features nationally renowned travelling artists for a set during the slam. While Beltway Poetry Slam has only been around for four years, teams from DC have been competing in this national competition since the early 1990’s.
The content of poetry at Beltway reflects the voice of the city: many pieces on racial identity, gender equality, social inequalities and personal narratives that connect to a larger political narrative. In Beltway’s four- year history, the team has made it to the National Poetry Slam semi-finals every year. This was the first year the team made the final competition.