On Saturday, May 27, the best poets in Arizona will compete in the 2017 Sedona Poetry Grand Slam, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 2030 W. State Route 89A, Suite A-3.

Tickets are $12, available online or at the door.


The slam is the climax of the 2017 season and the biggest poetry slam of the year because the audience will select the winning foursome and alternate to officially represent Sedona and the Verde Valley at the National Poetry Slam in Denver in August.

All 12 poets get three minutes per round to entertain their audience with their own original work. The poets will be judged Olympics-style by five members of the audience selected at random at the beginning of the slam.

Poets competed at six slams over the last nine months, earning points through wins just to be able to compete on the Grand Slam stage.

Competitors came from as far away as Phoenix, Prescott and Flagstaff, competing against adult poets from Sedona, college poets from Northern Arizona University and youth poets from Sedona Red Rock High School and Verde Valley School.

Some of the 12 top poets who will compete on May 27 include:

n Alaskan-born Flagstaff poet Ryan Smalley won three Flagstaff Grand Slams in 2014-16, and competed at the national poetry slam in 2015 and 2016. Best known for social commentary, humorous turns of phrase, wit and rhyme, Smalley is one of the strongest writers in the state’s performance poetry community.

n Evan Dissinger is a West Sedona resident who has been involved with slam poetry since 2008 and has been on four national teams; 2008 and 2016 with FlagSlam and in 2012 and 2015 as a member of team Sedona.

Dissinger is often found hunched over a canvas or cruising on a skateboard when not at his restaurant day job. He is an inquisitive Aquarius with a different interpretation of the world around him. Dissinger caries a timid boldness that can be found reflected in his art.

n Roanna “Rowie” Shebala, an American Indian spoken word artist, of the Diné Tribe, was born and raised on the Navajo Nation.

Given the gift of storytelling from her father, she combines story, poetry and performance. Shebala constantly brings the voice of her heritage into her performance, and written work often treading into spaces where hearing native voices is unlikely. In doing so, she hopes to reframe what it means to be a native person for the masses, point out the appropriation of her people’s culture, and reclaim an identity that has perverted by heavily edited versions of history, the invisibilization of indigenous peoples today and the use of those people as caricatures for mass amusement.

Shebala represented Sedona at the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2015, performed as a featured guest poet at New York City’s Lincoln Center in 2016, and competed at Nationals on teams from both Sedona and Phoenix.

n Originally from upstate New York, Lydia Gates is one of the rising new rookies in Northern Arizona. She attended the Women of the World Poetry Slam in Dallas in March and was a second-round finalist for the Flagstaff team last month.

Gates is considered a heavy favorite to make the Sedona team in her debut year with poetry that is sincere and confessional.

n Tyler “Valence” Sirvinskas is a performance poet and new media artist based in Arizona.

Spoken word, performance art, electronic music and visual art are all elements of Valence’s artistic vision. In 2011, he began competing in poetry slams, and represented Flagstaff at the 2011 National Poetry Slam. In 2012, he won the Sedona Grand Slam, and secured another spot on the Sedona team in 2013.

Valence has lived in Arizona for the last decade, but was born in and spent his childhood in Chicago. Part of the last generation to know first-hand what life was like before the internet, Valence is grateful for anything that makes people silence their smartphones.

At only 25 years of age, he’s still somewhat green but definitely done screwing around.

n A longtime member of the art scene and a recent father, Kenneth Kreslake is making his first grand slam debut in Northern Arizona.

n A graduate of Sedona Red Rock High School, Alina Perez is a new voice on the scene and a local favorite.

n Unfiltered and raw but with a big heart, Robert Chandler Gonzales can entertain, amuse, offend and inspire with equal aplomb, often in the same poem.

FlagSlam team members will perform between rounds.

The Sedona Poetry Grand Slam will be hosted by Sedona poet Christopher Fox Graham, who represented Northern Arizona on 10 FlagSlam National Poetry Slams between 2001 and 2016.Graham has hosted the Sedona Poetry Slam since 2009.

What is Poetry Slam?

Founded in Chicago in 1984, slam poetry is an art form that allows written page poets to share their work alongside theatrical performers, hip-hop artists and lyricists. While many people may think of poetry as dull and laborious, a poetry slam is like a series of high-energy, three-minute one-person plays.

All types of poetry are welcome on the stage, from street-wise hip-hop and narrative performance poems, political rants and introspective confessionals. Any poem is a “slam” poem if performed in a competition.

At Nationals, the Sedona National Poetry Slam Team will share the stage with 300 of the top poets in the United States, Canada and Europe. While the highlight of the event is the competition, the week is filled with writing workshops, featured performances, themed readings and several “underground” poetry competitions.