Interview with D.C.’ Slam Master Sarah Lawson

The people of D.C. were hungry for poetry this year, bringing heavy metaphor, dynamic group pieces, and imagery focusing on political, cultural and social issues to the National Poetry Slam in Oakland.  The D.C. Beltway Slam Team devoured the stage, claiming the 2014 champion title.

Congratulations to  D.C.’s success! Below Spit Journal had the pleasure speaking to D.C.’s Beltway Slam Master Sarah Lawson about the team and their triumphs.

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SPIT JOURNAL: What components did this year’s D.C. Beltway Slam Team posses that led them to final stage?

SARAH LAWSON: This team was a uniquely rad mix of humans. Both Clint and Pages were Beltway Slam Team alumni, but every other member of the team had been on a national stage before, so in terms of performance and strategy, they all came in with a lot of knowledge. I think their cohesiveness as a team (read: family) pushed them to first in the nation— they believed in and learned from each other, practiced often and wrote urgent poems that needed to be heard. The combination of honesty, ambition and community support led them to the top.

SJ:What was the preparation like?

LAWSON: The team is made of five busy individuals, many of whom make their living doing poetry all over the country. So finding time for twice a week practices was tough, but they made it work. It was a great mix of meeting in person and also sharing poems over Google Docs, editing over phone conversations and individual prep.

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SJ:  As D.C. nervously waits in the audience, the host walks up to the mic and nationally announces D.C. as the NPS Champions, what was your first initial response?

LAWSON: This was the first year since 2011 that I have not attended the National Poetry Slam, so I was at my friend Regie Cabico’s home, feverishly watching a combination of texts, live-tweets and an online spreadsheet being updated after each round. Even with a team as strong as ours, there is never an expectation that anyone will win, especially with the really powerful teams in finals. When I did learn we had won, I was happy, surprised, crying, joyful, proud— even if it was not expected, I really felt like they earned it. It’s still all a little surreal! And absolutely none of this would be possible without a community that supports poetry and art, especially the youth who we all work with. I think the success of the DC Youth Slam Team made us even more ambitious to take home the championship.

SJ: This year D.C. has taken first place at both Brave New Voices and at the National Poetry Slam, how will this affect D.C. and the arts?

LAWSON: We have been a really robust, active and welcoming community for many years now. Having two championships in DC already has gained the attention of the wider community and we hope this will continue to ignite excitement for poetry and the arts in general in DC.


SJ:Why do you think events like the National Poetry Slam are important to the arts?

LAWSON: The National Poetry Slam is the largest festival of spoken word artists in America. Many of us spend the year touring, balancing day jobs with poetry life or being involved in things that take us away from poetry. It is the one time a year we all get together and workshop, hear poems from other scenes, meet new friends and really get to exist as a collective community. I think it is especially important for poets who live in places without a thriving scene or even any open mics at all.

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SJ: What’s next for the D.C. Beltway slam team? What are next years expectations, goals, plans?

LAWSON: Big things are coming for Beltway Slam! We are partnering with Busboys and Poets so that we can house our slam in a fully accessible location, offer food and drink and fit even more people into our monthly slams. We love Busboys and are really excited about what the future brings working together. Additionally, DC is hosting the Individual World Poetry Slam in October 2015, so there will be lot of planning for bringing the festival to DC.


For more information on Sarah Lawson and the D.C. Beltway Slam team
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