Phoenix to host Individual World Poetry Slam, bringing traffic to local venues

Aaron Hopkins-Johnson announces that Phoenix was chosen to host the eleventh annual Individual World Poetry Slam during a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 11. This is the first time Phoenix will be hosting iWPS, an event that attracts poets from around the world. (Samantha Incorvaia/DD)
Aaron Hopkins-Johnson announced that Phoenix was chosen to host the eleventh annual Individual World Poetry Slam during a press conference at Lawn Gnome Publishing on Sept. 11. (Samantha Incorvaia/DD)

Phoenix will host the 11th annual Individual World Poetry Slam (IWPS), an event where over 70 performers will showcase their poetic talents to audiences, in October for the first time.

Aaron Hopkins-Johnson, the owner of local bookstore Lawn Gnome Publishing, was a key force in bringing the event to Phoenix. Hopkins-Johnson was excited to host the three-day competition because it would help expose local talent and feature many national poets, he said during a press conference on Thursday, Sept. 11.

“The city along the light rail is literally going to be bombarded with people for four to five days,” Hopkins-Johnson said.

From Oct. 8 to 11, 72 poets, including five international poets, will compete for their chance at a world title. On the first day, Lawn Gnome Publishing will host the Last Chance Slam, which will allow poets to compete for the last remaining spot in the official competition, according to a press release by Lawn Gnome Publishing.

Over 50 volunteers will help Hopkins-Johnson and his employees make IWPS a success.

Ten to 20 venues will be hosting additional, free events in the area such as a Crossword Slam at Jobot Coffee and Dining and age-friendly events at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix. He said most of the venues were chosen due to light rail accessibility. The Arizona Humanities Council created a grant to make the events possible.

People attending the event are expected to stay at the Wyndham Gardens Phoenix Midtown hotel on Second Avenue and at the Clarendon Hotel and Spa in Phoenix.

“We’re really really fortunate that we were able to book, really, anything,” Hopkins-Johnson said. “It just speaks for how the city is truly ready for a large arts festival.”

A standard poetry slam has poets read original work in under three minutes and 10 seconds. However, IWPS’s rules require participants to perform in a one-minute round, a two-minute round, a three-minute round and a four-minute round in preliminaries. The top 12 poets will be put into the finals at the Marquee Theatre.

Poets cannot have music or props with them on stage. They can only use their body, the microphone and the surroundings of whatever venue they’re performing in, Hopkins-Johnson said. Five random members of the audience will serve as judges and score the poets based on a scale from 0.0 to 10.

“In lots of ways, poetry slam is like the Olympics, except without drug testing and international conspiracies,” Hopkins-Johnson said.

Bill Campana, a poetry slam competitor, said IWPS will boost the local scene and give all the performers some recognition for their work.

Anna Pancoast, who moved to Phoenix a month and a half ago from New York, is new to the poetry slam scene. However, she was ready to perform at the weekly poetry slam event held after the press conference.

“It brings the community together and gives artists an area to do their own work without being judged,” Pancoast said.

Eric Myers is another regular slam poet at the event who placed in the top 20 of the semifinals, but did not move on afterwards.

Myers said he participates in poetry slams to improve his skills because, though he’s written for a long time, the performance component is new for him. He said IWPS is a great experience for the artistic community, and he hopes those with a poetic mix of style and influence can be placed in the spotlight.

Hopkins-Johnson said the poets are the dreamers, and he hopes he can provide a place for them to flourish.

“I opened this bookstore because there was not a poetry slam,” Hopkins-Johnson said. “If I can’t do it, I’m going to find a way to pass it on.”

A full schedule of events will be updated and posted next week on Lawn Gnome Publishing’s website and a variety of passes will be available at different prices, according to the press release.

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