Saturday, June 13, 2015

Austin Poetry Slam Team wins the 2015 SoFried poetry festival; Bull City a close second!

By LeJuane (El’Ja) Bowens
Guest Contributor

Itall starts with a mission: Poets in their local poetry scene compete for a chance to make a team and represent it in the country’s biggest regional poetry slam in the country: The Southern Fried Poetry Festival. While it has always changed locations within the 23 years of its existence, there is one thing that you can count on: this is not just a poetry competition, it’s a family reunion.

I was lucky enough to attend the slam this year for the sixth time and this was my second year competing on the Bull City Slam Team out of Durham, NC. As the returning champions, we knew that this would be a
chance to repeat and win against 37 other teams coming from NC, SC, TN, FL, TX, NO, and even as far as NJ. There were also eleven individual poets competing for the individual crown.

This year, the festival was held in Little Rock, AR for the first time. In addition to the competition aspect of the festival, there were side events as well, including an Erotic Open Mic, Hip Hop Open Mic, Haiku Slam, Nerd Open Mic, and showcases that ranged from being a Phenomenal Woman, a member of the LGBT community, and what it’s like to be Black in America.

In my time there, I asked a few poets what they felt the Southern Fried Poetry Festival meant to them. Here are some of their responses:

“Southern Fried is a family reunion. The sharpest pens get together and have an all-star poetry contest. It's an opportunity for comrades, peers, friends, or whatever we call each other to exchange poems, laughs, hugs, and liquor.” Ebony Payne-English, Jacksonville, FL | Slam Duval

“Southern Fried is a retreat from the business of life to focus on our crafts as writers, performers, and orators. It is our permission slip to react and interact with the world, to feel deeply, and to both be influenced and influence others for positive, lasting change.” – Siren, Killeen, TX | Team Gravy

“Southern Fried means a chance to meet up with my peer writers and get to know them outside of writing. Figure out new ways of organizing events. Learn different aspects of writing via workshops. Have fun with people from all across the south that I've grown to admire. On an artistic level, it's a great way to gauge your growth as a writer and performer from year to year. It has kept me on my toes as a performer and has also helped establish connections for traveling.” – Akeem “Olaj" Martin, New Orleans, LA | Slam New Orleans 

“It’s more than just a slam, it’s an experience…” – Monica Haynes, Fayetteville, NC | Supporter of the Arts

When it was all said and done, it came down to four teams representing North Carolina, New Jersey, Texas and Florida in the finals. In the end, the Austin Poetry Slam Team took home the crown with Bull City out of Durham coming in second by only .9, followed by Slam Duval from Florida and New Jeru from New Jersey.

In the Indie Slam portion, Slam veteran Ed Mabrey came in first place, followed by Sha’Condria “Icon” Sibley placing second. Tied for third place were Akeem “Olaj” Martin & Christopher Michael.

Next year, North Carolina will be in luck as the Southern Fried Poetry Festival will be held in Greensboro, and hosted by Spoken Word artist Kross Wordz. For more information, please go to the website or feel free to join their Facebook Group Page entitled, “Southern Fried 2016 GSO.”

There is a lot more that could be said about this wonderful event, but why not come and experience it yourself? I’ll be awaiting your arrival along with two hundred of the best poets in the southern region and beyond.

LeJuane “El’Ja” Bowens is a writer, poet, host, workshop facilitator, and one of the founders of the Southeastern Regional NC Poetry Slam held twice a year in Fayetteville. He has performed in numerous slams and been a featured performer in 15 states. He participated in the 2009 Women’s Empowerment Expo Talent Search, won the 2009 Second Annual McDonald’s “Food For Thought” Poetry Slam Tour and was the 2010 East Carolina University’s “Survival of the Illest” Slam Champion. He placed within the Top 30 poets at the 2010 Southern Fried Poetry Slam, within the Top 50 at Southern Fried 2012, and was ranked 24th at Southern Fried 2013. In 2010, Bowens was crowned one of the Kings of Poetry in NC by poet/pioneer Sean Ingram and was the first poet to have his work featured in the Obama Art Museum in Raleigh. As of 2013, he is the first ever NC Poet to compete in three different Grand Slam Finals in three different cities (Fayetteville, Charlotte and Durham) and win all three. The Bull City Slam Team, of which he is a member, won the 22nd Southern Fried Poetry Slam and was ranked 24th in the country at the 2014 National Poetry Slam. El’Ja was nominated for Spoken Word Artist of the Year at the 5th Annual National Poetry Awards.

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