Human Interest

The world’s top performance poets will compete across four days next week at four Flagstaff venues for the 13th annual Individual World Poetry Slam.

The competitors include 21-year-old Sedona resident Claire Pearson and five other poets well-known to Sedona poetry audiences.

Claire PearsonThe tournament runs from Wednesday, Oct. 12, through Saturday, Oct. 15, and is hosted by the FlagSlam Poetry Slam and Poetry Slam Inc., an international 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

Some of the 96 competing poets will be representing their home cities and PSI-certified poetry slam venues while others, known as Storm poets, will be competing as solo individuals. Poets come from as far away as New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Europe and venues from around the United States, from Florida to Washington, California to Massachusetts.

Pearson, a Sedona Red Rock High School alumna, won Sedona’s slot in a competition at the Mary D. Fisher Theatre on Aug. 20. Shortly after winning the Sedona title, Pearson said she is a little nervous about performing but that experience both volunteering for a previous iWPS as well as slamming at the most recent Women of the World Poetry Slam in New York City in March have helped her build her confidence.

“PSI puts together three international events a year: The National Poetry Slam, Women of the World Poetry Slam and Individual World Poetry Slam,” said John Quinonez, the host city coordinator and outgoing slammaster of the Flagstaff Poetry Slam. “In the past five years, through consolidated efforts from the Sedona Poetry Slam and Flagstaff Poetry Slam, we have been able to foster a Northern Arizona literary community that has greatly increased in size to include new open mics, story slams and large events, to include the revival of the Northern Arizona Book Festival.”

The NPS, WOWps and iWPS poetry competitions head to new cities every year and Flagstaff won the 2016 iWPS bid.

“As a lifetime volunteer and six-year active community organizer in Northern Arizona, it seemed from the get-go to be a match made in heaven,” Quinonez said. This is only the second time any PSI event has been held in Arizona. Phoenix hosted iWPS in 2014.

Slam poets are a mix of comedy and drama, social commentary, humor, political criticism, personal narratives, death and tragedy, hope and healing, all contained in a single poem. No topic is off limits and all events are uncensored.

“It is a familial homecoming in which a very large body of poets, writers and volunteers from around the world get together and celebrate each other’s company and individual voices,” he said.

In addition to Pearson, who has competed at three NPS and one WOWps event, the five other Arizona poets include Lydia Havens, Libby Rooney, Rowie Shebala as well as:

Sonora Mystique ReyesSonora Reyes

Representing Flagstaff, Sonora “Mystique” Reyes is a poet, hip-hop dancer and lover of the urban arts. When illness prevented her from dancing in 2014, spoken word poetry found its way to her, and she has been competing in local poetry slams ever since.

She speaks out about her experiences as a queer, first-generation Mexican- American in hopes of inspiring others with similar experiences and awakening those without.

“I’m hoping to show people who I am, that I’m here, and really bring some raw emotions out of people,” Reyes said.

The KluteThe Klute

Storm poet Bernard Schober, aka The Klute, is a fixture on Arizona’s poetry scene, having works placed in anthologies by publishers around the country including Sergeant Press, Write Bloody and Four Chambers Press.

He has represented teams from Sedona, Mesa and Phoenix at NPS 10 times between 2002 and 2014, reaching semifinals three times and Group Piece Finals once.

Although more known for his comedic and acerbic works that delve into the absurdity of the American socio-political environment, he recently has been working in his capacity as a poet and shark conservationist. He is donating the profits from a current collection of poetry “Chumming the Waters” to the shark conservation group Fins Attached, which has generated over $1,000 in donations.

“I always hope to bring a unique perspective on an issue, and poetry gives me the format to express myself in a creative fashion. Whether its sharks, politics, or just the idea of being human, I try to give the reader or audience a show, and one they’ll be talking about the next day,” Schober said.

“I’m thrilled iWPS is back in Arizona, as it shows the world that Arizona isn’t just a place filled with cactus and reactionary politics. We’ve got a vibrant arts community here, and it’s our time to shine.”

Gabbi webGabbi Jue

Storm poet Gabbi Jue is a spoken word poet, creator and survivor with an insatiable love for art that turns pain into beauty, she said. Her tendency to speak her mind honestly has coined her the nickname “Truth Bomb.”

Jue has been a part of the Northern Arizona poetry community since 2011, and has competed at NPS for Flagstaff in 2013 and 2014, for Sedona in 2015 at the 2015 WOWps.

Jue has currently taken on the role as Quinonez’s successor as one the slammasters of the Flagstaff Poetry Slam.

Lauren Perry by by shotbyjonny Lauren Perry

“I’ve been slamming for almost 15 years, made semifinals with my last national team,” Perry said. “I’ve been on just as many national teams as I have been the WOWps representative for Arizona including for Phoenix, Mesa and Sedona, but I’m especially excited for the Flagstaff iWPS.

“It’s been two years since I did a national competition and have been a bit stir-crazy, concerned over the things that I’ve heard in national slam community.

“Personally I feel like people believe they can be delicate little snowflakes that when something offends them, they can call ‘safe space’ and censorship without respecting what we as poets are actually here to do.

“For me personally, I’m looking forward to perhaps making a few people shift in their seats because a feeling has started to boil in their gut.”

Joy Young webJoy Young

Storm poet Joy Young is a touring performance and teaching spoken word artist based in Phoenix. Young’s poetry and workshops center on transgressing borders, entering topics pertaining to social justice through poetic personal narratives has been featured on the Button Poetry website and Everyday Feminism as well as on stages across the country. Young said.

“My goal is to showcase a nuanced perspective on what it means to live as an LGBTQ person in Arizona,” Young said. “There are amazing people here using art to fight for social justice, collecting counter-narratives, and attempting to shift social consciousness.”


iWPS2016The festival kicks off with the Last Chance Slam at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at Firecreek Coffee Co., 22 Route 66. As the name suggests, this is an open slam to select the 96th and final poet of the competition.

The full competition begins Thursday, Oct. 13, at four venues, all along San Francisco Street. After two days of bouts, the top poets advance to the finals competition, which will be held at Prochnow Auditorium on the Northern Arizona University campus on Saturday, Oct. 15.

Aside from bouts, iWPS will include daytime side events such as writing and performance workshops, featured readings, the Headto- Head Haiku Slam and the ever-popular Nerd Slam featuring poetry focused on comic books, fantasy, science, engineering, science fiction and anime.

“We put a lot of effort into programming this year as well, specifically in making sure that events having to do with a specific body of people, i.e., the Queer Open Mic, People of the Sun Open Mic, etc., do not overlap,” Quinonez said. “These events are an opportunity to showcase and empower the diversity we have as an international community. It is my hope that people use this opportunity to immerse themselves, not just in their own subcommunities, but also take in the stories of their peers.”

The poets are judged Olympics-style by five members of the audience selected at random at the beginning of the slam. Anyone in the audience unaffiliated with the competition or the poets could be picked as a judge.

“Slam is about community and it is not without an engaged audience that this event is even possible,” Quinonez said.

The All Event Pass is $60, the Student All Event Pass is $40, while Finals tickets at $27 at the door or $22 in advance. Purchase festival tickets now at iwps.

For more about iWPS, visit iwps. or follow #iWPSFLG on Twitter.

Individual World Poetry Slam Schedule


  • Registration, 4 to 6 p.m.
  • Last Chance Slam, 7:30 p.m.


  • Registration, 9 a.m. to noon
  • Orientation, 1 to 2 p.m.
  • Slam Family Map, open mic focusing on place, home and location, 2 to 3:30 p.m.
  • Volunteer/Rookie Open Mic, 3 to 4 p.m.
  • Preliminary Bouts, 7 pm, 9 p.m.
  • Extreme Slam Championship, a professional-wrestling-style poetry slam where props and costumes are encouraged, 10:30 p.m.


  • Open Cafe, Free Coffee for Competing Poets and Volunteers, 9 to 10 a.m.
  • Workshops, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
    *The Press and You
    *Considering Accessibility
  • Visible and Invisible Disability Open Mic, noon to 1:30 p.m.
  • Workshop, 1 to 2  p.m.
    *Navigating Identity and Inclusivity
  • Queer Open Mic, 2 to 3:30 p.m.
  • African-American Open Mic, 3 to 4:30 p.m.
  • Preliminary Bouts, 7 pm, 9 p.m.
  • Nerd Slam, 10:30 p.m.
  • Pepper Poetry, midnight


  • Workshops, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
    *History of Performance Poetry
    *Indigenous Workshop, with indigenous food
  • People of the Sun Open Mic, noon to 1:30 p.m.
  • Asian/Pacific Islander Open Mic, 1 to 2:30 p.m.
  • Womens Open Mic, 2 to 3:30 p.m.
  • Finals, in Prochnow Auditorium on the campus of Northern Arizona University, 7 p.m.
  • After Party

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