A poetry slam is a competition of the spoken word in the context of a sporting event. Contestants are rated from a low of zero to a high of 10 and matches may be fierce. The VIVA Poesía, Música y Cultura slam Saturday evening at Mission Marquee Plaza consisted of 12 entrants, three judges, and 300 spectators. The competition was brutal: Less than half of the 12 contestants made it past the first round.

In the final round, Max Edman delivered the words of  I am Brown. He received third place and a check for $100.

It’s a Scene I’ve Seen Too Often by Jessica Tilton, got her a second place prize of $150.

Almost Saved, aka Erica Warthen, recalled When I was 12 – and took home the first place honor of $200.

“I heard a sermon at church and they talked about being almost saved instead of being saved,” she said of her pen name. Warthen graduates from UTSA in December.

Anthony the Poet, the nom de plume for Anthony Flores, served as emcee for the competition. He is a poet, an educator, a loving father of two children, and a three-time Grand Slam Poetry Champ. Flores is also a hard-core Spurs fan, as his t-shirt attested.

Flores introduced one of the judges, Lisa DeLaLuz-Arredondo, as a graduate of Harlandale High School. “She is currently on the board of directors for Avenida Guadalupe and is an avid patron of the arts,” Flores said.

Her husband, Donato Arredondo, co-owner of Sierra Vieja Tequila, also served as a judge for the Canto San Anto: Our City in Poetry competition.

“Donato is the manager of customer accounts for a software development company,” Flores said. “He is a member of the Contemporary Arts and Literature Organization as well as an organizer of the annual Una Noche En La Gloria Art Project.”

The third judge was Dr. Octavio Quintanilla, a teacher, writer, and photographer.

“Octavio is a professor of English at Our Lady of the Lake University,” Flores said. “He is also the author of If I Go Missing, a book of poems that has been called an astonishing debut.”

Contestants in the Canto San Anto: Our City in Poetry competition await their turn. Photograph by Octavio Quintanilla.
Contestants in the Canto San Anto: Our City in Poetry competition await their turn. Photo by Octavio Quintanilla.

DeLaLuz-Arredondo said she judges on content and creativity. “I tend to judge on what moves me, not on technicalities,” she said.

Quintanilla’s scores came from a different view. “I grade on the performance aspect,” he said, “the use of language.”

City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) opened the ceremonies Saturday afternoon with a few lines from a recent musical, the death scene from Hamilton.

As a patron of the arts, Viagran recognizes the quality of San Antonio’s poets. “We’ve got some great talent here,” she said. “This is the third year in a row that we are highlighting poetry at the Mission Marquee Plaza.”

As is a tradition before a slam, the host will give a sacrificial poet to the judges in order to calibrate their appraisals.

Flores called the 2013 grand slam champion, Raynor Shine, to be the sacrifice. He began his epic work with the words, “The soundtrack of my earliest memories,” and received some high scores.

Max Edman was the first contestant. His Life’s Cycles got him into round two.

Spurs and Taquerias, by Darrell Pitman, was a crowd favorite – but not with the judges. Like the Spurs, he didn’t even get to the championships this year.

Adolfo Rodriguez read The Poetess’ Bruised Petals in round one and Mestiza in round two. “The poems I shared are excerpts from a play I’ve written,” Rodriguez said. “The play will be about a young female artist coming out of the inner city.”

Patrick Cummings recited Spring Rite.

“I wrote this poem especially for this event,” he said. “Although I didn’t place, I’m not at the least disheartened.”

Diamond Mason took to the stage barefooted and recited, How to Survive a Two-Hour Winter with 12 Kids, which took her into round two. “It’s also known as An Ode to my After-Schoolers,” she said. Sadly, she did not survive.

Marisol Cortez read Preface.  A selection of her words:

I saw that the river
was bigger and more ancient
than our struggle, our suffering. I saw
it had survived
despite violence.
and I thought of Siddhartha’s words:
I call on the earth to bear witness.

Her “river” is deep – apparently too deep for the judges. As the sun was going down in flames, so did Cortez.

Sean McDonald read So Many Memories and Eduardo Garza recited Delores De La Rose Garden.

Jacinto Jesus Cardona made it into round two with Charmaco. Ernest Leonard read, I Wasn’t Born Here. But, speaking in sports parlance, he did die here.

The women of Las Tesoros performed across the hemisphere from the 40s to the 70s. Beatriz Llamas was one of the stars. Photograph by Octavio Quintanilla.
The women of Las Tesoros performed internationally from the 40s to the 70s. Beatriz Llamas was one of the stars. Photo by Octavio Quintanilla.

Jessica Tilton read I’d Like to Apologize which got her into round two. She wowed the crowd with her “poop” poem in round three.

To round out the festive evening of frozen paletas from H-E-B, the cold beer from Alamo Brewery, and the hot poetry from the contestants, the film, Las Tesoros de San Antonio: A Westside Story, was shown as the stars began to shine.

Las Tesoros – Rita “La Calandria” Vidaurri, Beatriz “La Paloma del Norte” Llamas, Blanca Rosa, and Perla Tapatía – have been international performers. Their individual careers entertained millions from the 1940s through the 1970s. Each one of these amazing women is from San Antonio’s Westside and have performed from Panama to New York. Time has not aged their beauty or exuberance of life.

Time has not adversely aged the former Mission Drive-In Theatre either.  The H-E-B Family Film Series continues through October with free screenings of movies for the entire family. Click here for a full schedule of Mission Marquee Plaza events and look for the fourth year of poetry and paletas next year.

“I am humbled, as always, to be able to do this,” Flores said.

City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (left) awarded prize money to Almost Saved, Jessica Tilton, and Max Edman as Anthony Flores looks on. Photograph by Octavio Quintanilla.
From left: City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran awarded prize money to Almost Saved, Jessica Tilton, and Max Edman alongside Anthony Flores looks on. Photo by Octavio Quintanilla.
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Top image: Anthony the Poet has been the Grand Slam Poetry Champ three different times. Saturday night he emceed the slam at Mission Marquee Plaza.  Photo by Octavio Quintanilla.

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Don Mathis

Don’s life revolves around the many poetry circles in San Antonio. His poems have been published in many anthologies and periodicals and broadcasted on local TV and national radio. In addition to poetry,...