In its third year, the Buffalo Niagara International Poetry Slam finally fits the grand vision that founder Ntare Ali Gault had for it.
When Gault started the festival in 2010, he hoped to model it after two poetry slams that he admired: Def Poetry Jam, the popular HBO series that blends hip-hop and spoken-word performances, and the Toronto International Poetry Slam, which has drawn fans from Canada, Western New York and other parts of America for more than a decade.
The BNIPS got off to a decidedly more modest start, only drawing attendees from Buffalo in its first year. Shortly before the second slam was scheduled, Gault suffered two strokes, putting the slam on hiatus for 2011 and leaving its future uncertain.
But by 2012, Gault recovered, and the BNIPS returned to find its footing again. This year, it stands as the largest poetry slam in Western New York – and Gault almost feels satisfied.
“We wanted to make Buffalo a mecca for poets and performers,” he said. “And that’s what’s happening this year.”
The BNIPS, which will be held at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Tralf Music Hall (622 Main St.), captures the hip-hop flavor of Def Poetry Jam, and comes closer to reaching the broad audience of the Toronto slam. Before this year’s competing poets get to show their stuff, the evening will start with sets by two DJs and a group of dancers who will perform “krumping,” a high-energy street dance.
The early performances are meant to give the event “more of a party and festive atmosphere,” Gault said. “It gets the crowd all warmed up before the poets even come on.”
When the dancing ends and the slam begins, it will feature the widest range of poets that the BNIPS has hosted. Slam poets from New York City, Toronto, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, Philadelphia and Detroit will sling words with local poets including Marquis “10,000” Burton, Danielle Johnson, Jacon Herring, Ronald “Sir Rock Bottom 137” Jackson and Tyesheka “Spoken” Long.
Each poet gets three minutes and 10 seconds to perform, with $1,000 in cash prizes at stake.
Toronto spoken-word artist Dwayne Morgan will be the evening’s “sacrificial poet” – that is, a poet who calibrates the judges but doesn’t perform.
Gault will once again host the slam with his wife, Erika D. Gault, who won last year’s Toronto International Poetry Slam. (“She smashed the competition,” Gault gleefully noted.)
In preparation of the slam’s growing stature, Gault for the first time started selling tickets beyond Buffalo, opening up the event to more fans across New York State.
The competition became so crowded that he had to close registration for new performers. Even so, Gault said he’ll only “take it up another notch” next year, when he plans to add a youth program to the competition.
Young poets in Buffalo and beyond: Start practicing now.
What: Buffalo Niagara International Poetry Slam
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Tralf Music Hall, 622 Main St.
Tickets: $20 general, $15 students advance; $25 door.
Info: Doris Records (286 E. Ferry St.), Record Theatre locations and Ticketmaster