Jay Steele did not expect to win BookSense.com's first-ever Poetry Slam, held on Saturday, May 31, at BookExpo America in Los Angeles. In fact, Steele didn't even intend to read his winning poem, "Trans-Substantiation," a riveting and personal composition about his transsexuality. But he finally did stand up before a crowd of over 100 people to read at the end of the event. "It was a last-minute [decision]," Steele told BTW. "I usually write and hide it."
Steele may think twice about hiding future poems. At the conclusion of his reading, "Trans-Substantiation" was met with thunderous applause from the audience, and the judges nabbed him as the Poetry Slam winner. (To read Steele's poem, click here.)
Overall, attendees at the event who spoke with BTW had only good things to say about the event. "It was a great experience," said Luanne Kreutzer of St. Helen's Bookshop in St. Helen's, Oregon, who also volunteered to be one of the five judges at the event. "The quality [of the poetry] was so good. The passion that the poets felt really came out. The level of professionalism and stage presence was wonderful."
Saul Williams, author of several books, including , Said the Shotgun to the Head (MTV Books/Pocket Books), hosted the event. Williams is also the writer and star of the award-winning film Slam and a featured poet in Spoken Word Revolution: slam hip hop & the poetry of a new generation (Sourcebooks). "[Williams] read from his book and he was amazing, really spectacular," noted Len Vlahos, director of BookSense.com
Of the five judges, two were published poets -- Daphne Gottlieb, author of Why Things Burn: Poems (Soft Skull Press), and Jerry Quickly, whose poetry is featured in Spoken Word Revolution. And, aside from Kreutzer, there were two other volunteer judges from the audience: ABA Board Member Russ Lawrence of Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Montana, and Lindsay Lancaster from Bookworks in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Poetry Slam was limited to 12 poets, who had three minutes apiece. "The winner went last," Kreuzter reported. "It was hard to put one poet above the other, but the winner really spoke true from the heart."
Steele said winning the event was "very surprising and wonderful. I don't do a lot of public speaking. I was surprised considering the subject matter." He noted that prior to reading, he felt as if he were about to "pass out. I said [to the audience] that the poem wouldn't work if I didn't tell you I was a female-to-male transsexual." His revelation was met with silence from the crowd, but the quiet evaporated at the conclusion of his reading as "Tran-Substantiation" was answered with a rousing ovation.
Sponsors for this year's event were Soft Skull Press, Sourcebooks, Consortium Sales and Distribution, and HarperCollins Publishers. The BookSense.com Poetry Slam was such a hit that Vlahos said that he hopes to do it again at next year's BEA in Chicago. --David Grogan
Trans-Substantiation by Jay Steele
There is a permanent dent in my chest
I thought I'd hid it well
Stalked elusive graces in half empty faces
my silent mouth
Female to faux-male --
needle fucks my skin
my crucifixion comes at last
I keep my fingers in places wet to the touch
and the knowledge
for more than the purpose of indecision.