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Extreme Poetry in the North Woods

“I am a blackhole supernova,” announces a slim young man dressed in a cowboy shirt and glasses, who stands stiffly against a snowy black and white landscape.

“I am a blackhole supernova, colliding with a proton, genetically-engineered from a hooker, mutated into a circus clown, riding on a unicycle.” He takes a pause, and the film cuts to a shot of him shivering, and then straight back to him looking into the camera. “What I mean,” he continues, “is my words make me extra powerful.”

As spoken word poetry continues to grow more popular, it's not surprise that this sort of promo would be shot. Slick and quirky, Patrick Anderson's poem “Lord Word” comes off looking like a Gen X anthem. The real surprise is who is broadcasting it: ESPN.

Poetry and sports have never really been enemies. Sherman Alexie has written poems about Walt Whitman playing basketball. . . and Muhammad Ali put out a spoken word album in the '60's. . . so to some extent, poets on ESPN was a brilliant idea just waiting to happen.

“I thought, and still think, it's great idea,” Anderson said. “I want to be on Monday Night Football as well.”

The concept was to take five young poets from the streets of New York City, and ask them to write poems for the ESPN Extreme Games taking place in early February. The poems would celebrate both the Extreme games and the people and lifestyle associated with it, and would be filmed in the snowy backdrop of Vermont, and then broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC.

Beau Sia, Amanda Nazario, Patrick Anderson, Sage Francis and Laurel Barclay (who performed with her guitarist Matt) were chosen to be the poetic voices of Gen X-treme. Young and out-spoken, the poets were perfect choices for the project. Sia, Nazario and Anderson have all performed at National Poetry Slams (as members of Team Manhattan), while Francis and Barclay have musical backgrounds (fronting the bands Non-Prophets and Daddy respectively). Given the assignment, the poets were quick to come up with long pieces and haikus that fit the theme.

“I just called you mom to mock giving birth to you? How extreme is that?” Beau Sia wrote.

“I should get a lot of gold medals just for being alive,” Barclay countered.

Pleased at the work, ESPN soon shipped the poets to Vermont for the filming the following week.

“It was exciting. And cold,” Anderson said of the shoot. “And it was awesome to see everyone do their pieces in the snow. Did I mention it was cold?”

The poets performed their pieces outdoors, for the most part, and the pieces were shot onto black and white 35 millimeter. The shoot was finished in one day, and they were returned to the streets of New York that night to wait for the poems to be aired.

On February 6th, the X-games begin with a haiku by Patrick Anderson.

There is a snowman
his eyes are two perfect x
the snowman is me
And that was just the beginning. By the end of the 5-day run of the Winter X-games, all five poets were broadcast, including four of them on ABC. The poems were such a big hit there is talk that ESPN will rebroadcast them. (You can see a RealVideo version of Sage Francis' piece, Snow Angels, at the Non-Prophets site.) But if you can't wait, all the poets are still very much active in the New York scene. And if you can't make it to New York, Beau Sia and Patrick Anderson encourage you to write them.

“It's my first time having e-mail,” Anderson told me at the end of our conversation, “So tell them to write me, especially if they are pretty.”

How extreme is that?

--Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

Cristin is New York correspondent for the About.com Poetry Museletter. She was born & raised in Philly -- her poem “Ascensions” & a short-short prose piece, “Spilt,” are online in a 1995 issue of Mirror, the Central High School of Philadelphia lit mag. Cristin was a member of the 1998 Manhattan Slam Team and is currently Slam Mistress of the 1999/2000 Manhattan team & host of the Urbana slam in New York City. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her poem in Will Work for Peace & is slated for May 2000 graduation from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in Dramatic Writing.

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