Mar 20 99 by Published in: Reviews No comments yet

In an evening of poetry that was more about adrenaline and attitude than careful crafting of phrase, a local actor and writer emerged victorious in the county’s first poetry slam competition.

“I should have a little crown. Next year I want a tiara,” joked Sharon Mellinger after her win.

She was one of 14 local poets who strutted their stuff to a crowd of nearly 100 would-be critics at the Ephrata Main Theater Thursday night.

The spoken-word spectacle was part of an evening of poetry and film designed to deliver verse with a powerful punch, forcing the crowd to take notice.

After listening to a warm-up slam with SlamMaster Mike Brown of Boston, Jamuna the Bard of London and MaryAlice Bitts of Lancaster, the audience screened the frenetic documentary film “SlamNation.”

With these inspirational models to guide them, competing poets assumed the stage, one by one, to offer their best shot.

Their work covered a range of subjects, from their own mortality to a loss of innocence, and even poems about the frustration of writing poems.

They spanned a range of poetic voices, from fierce rants to quiet introspection to witty two-line pieces that served as a sorbet after so much verbosity. Many had already honed their stage personae, performing under one-word names like Marco or stevenallenmay.

Judges randomly picked from the crowd – a scientist, a filmmaker, a high school student, a recreational therapist and a movie theater worker – were instructed to rate performance as much as the words. They scored each poet Olympic-style, holding up numbered scores from 0 to 10.

Their subjective conclusions were met with loud boos and applause from the crowd members who weren’t shy about expressing their own opinions.

“Nobody ever lost a slam because of a bad poem – it’s always because of bad judges,” said Brown, a Lancaster native who organized the event.

Brown, who was featured in the film, has been a part of the slam circuit since it began in Chicago with Marc Smith in 1986.

A seasoned slam poet, Brown believes slams make poetry more vital to people. And he thinks competing in slams is good for poets.

“Slam builds character,” he said.

Brown was heartened to see such support for this poetic medium in his hometown.

“For a first slam, it was a good start,” said Brown.

Mellinger’s winning poems touched on subjects like a childhood remembrance of a hamster’s death, shallow preoccupations with appearances and an admiration of the fierceness in women trying to survive their lives.

She scored a 26.8 out of a possible 30 points, narrowly beating second-place poet Terri Durden and third-place poet Larry Kipp.

Mellinger, like many of the poets at the event, was heartened to find she was not creating in a vacuum, but that a large community of performance-based poets existed in the area.

“What really amazed me is that there were so many great people there,” said Mellinger. “I was so happy because I didn’t know what kind of a turnout or support would be there.”

She said she’s looking forward to defending her title at Lancaster’s next slam, whenever that may be.

“She gets to be the first champ until somebody else has another slam,” said Brown, who hopes to bring more slams to the county. He’s already planning an open reading May 7 at Lily’s on Main in Ephrata.

“There’s no real plan to this,” said Brown. “It’s best to let these things grow. I’m here to help it grow into something.”

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