by Timothy Green
The 5th Wrightwood Poetry Slam was a blast. Fourteen poets competed for the top prize, while national slam champion Taylor Mali performed a hilarious set about dogs and teaching—perfect topics for the mountain community. He kept the standing-room-only audience laughing between rounds with newer poems and classics like “The the Impotence of Proofreading.”
The 1st prize winner was Alex Clark, who drove down to the festival from the Bay Area. I talked to him a few days later to learn more about his background.
For the last year, Alex has been working rotational shifts as bridge tender, perched high in a tower operating the drawbridge to Alameda Island, just south of Oakland. He chose the job because gives him some quiet time to write and think while working on a book of poems and a fictionalized crime novel.
Given the polish of his performance, those who were in the audience will be surprised to hear that this was the first time he’d ever competed in a slam. A long-time fan of Taylor Mali, Alex does have a background in theater and has used Mali’s famous “What Teachers Make” as an audition monologue. For years he’s wanted to compete, but finally found the right mix of courage and opportunity this year, after the isolation of the pandemic.
Leading into the festival, he studied up on slam poetry “shotgunning YouTube videos,” and modified a handful of his poems to better fit the format.
The poem that won in the final round, “Today I Met a Real Angel,” is a great example of what slam poetry can do, sharing a personally meaningful story with a bit of humor and a heap of heart. It recounts a true story from his time at a previous job delivering weed for a marijuana company. One of his costumers is a “Sweet Little Grandma” buying “an eighth of top shelf Gorilla Glue #4 indica.” As the two chat, they realize they each play music at a Sunday church service, and Alex reveals a personal secret he’s been keeping from his father, the pastor. It was a touching story, well told, and worthy of the $500 prize.
The runner-up in the competition was Daniel McGinn of Whittier, who had won the slam back in 2018. This year, his performance included a moving love poem for his wife.
With what might have been the funniest poem of the night, Alexandra Umlas came in third place, sharing her story about trying to get her dog to pee in a thunderstorm. That poem, “What You’ve Done” originally appeared in Rattle, and a recording of Alexandra reading the poem is included on the magazine’s website.
Alex Clark hopes to defend his title in the next Wrightwood Poetry Slam, which will likely be a part of the next Wrightwood Arts & Wine Festival. He’ll also be appearing on Rattle‘s podcast on Sunday, June 5th, which you can watch here.