On the last Thursday of every month, poets and poetry enthusiasts gather at Infuzion RVA for The Writer’s Den Poetry Slam. Poets include members of The Writer’s Den slam team, as well as walk-on performers. Slams provide a unique experience: during the course of three rounds, poets advance (or are eliminated) based on the combined scores of judges from the audience. The growing success of these events is due largely to the efforts of the founder of The Writer’s Den, Roscoe Burnems (one of our guests for our second-ever show, along with fellow TWD teammate Monica Edwards).
Last month, I attended my second Writer’s Den Slam. Upon arriving, I was asked to be a judge. I was given a small whiteboard and an unexpected dose of anxiety. How do you judge a poem? How do you compare one poet to another? Turns out, it’s as simple as it is stressful. I decided on a handful of basic criteria and tried to keep my cool when my score was met with pained yelps from the back of the room.
Each poem had its own distinctive style and tone. Some were bitter, cursing an ex-lover. Others downright hilarious. Two particularly charismatic performers were Michelle Dodd and Rob “Robalujah” Gibson.
“The Dodd is good…” “All the time.” “All the time…” “The Dodd is good.” Michelle Dodd is the only member of the Writer’s Den who receives her own battle cry before each performance. Michelle is a black woman who was adopted by a white family, and much of her poems revolve around feeling out of place and uncomfortable in her own skin. She is also a musician, often incorporating ground-shaking vocal performance into her poetry. Michelle Dodd is a powerhouse poet. She has published two books of poetry, which you can find on her website.
Robalution. Robalujah. Robalu. Rob Gibson is a poet, artist, musician, and coach. This man breathes verse. While we were recording this episode, I saw that Rob was writing or doodling on some scrap paper while we spoke. Afterward, we saw that he had sketched each of us in the room.
Writing this, I realize that I actually know very little about Rob. Maybe that’s part of his charm.
During our conversation, Michelle mentioned that another member of The Writer’s Den once said that all poets can be classified as of the elemental “benders” from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra: water, earth, fire, and air. Michelle is a self-described water poet, Rob an air poet. This seems about right to me. Michelle’s poems will wash over you with total emotion. Rob is whimsical and daring with his poetry, like Aang riding the wind on his glider.