Smooth rhymes and clever wordplay filled the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on April 27 as students from around the city performed in the biggest slam poetry event of the year: the sixth annual Verselandia. Literary Arts, a nonprofit based in downtown Portland, put on the show, which featured the two top poets from each participating high school. Lily Lamadrid (12) and Seth Estrada (11) performed at the event after placing first and second in the Franklin poetry slam, respectively. Nathan Wilk (10) was the alternate for his third place finish at the Franklin slam.
Prior to taking the stage at Verselandia, the two poets from Franklin put a lot of work into perfecting their performances. Lamadrid and Estrada had never met before the Franklin slam, but the two bonded over their common interest in poetry. It was Estrada’s first time performing poetry on such a large stage, so Lamadrid’s experience was helpful for the newcomer.
In the first round of Verselandia, Estrada courageously opened up about the hardships he has faced trying to find his place in a judgmental society. He chose to perform this poem in the first round because he thought the personal element would boost him into round two. “The majority of people are more intrigued with story,” he said. His line, “I got a metabolism your criticism can’t change,” garnered applause from the audience, and before Estrada confidently exited the stage, he ended his performance with the question, “Although I don’t know mine, what’s your purpose?” The poem earned respectable scores, which elevated Estrada into the second round.
Lamadrid’s first poem featured her interpretation of a statement made by Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to President Donald Trump: “[It is not enough to have] the fire in your belly. You have to have the bile in your throat.” Lamadrid found inspiration in this outlook. “It really spoke to me about my mania and how you have to have constructive and destructive forces,” she said. Her performance explored the ambition that Conway possesses and contrasted it with her excessive “twisting” of the truth. Lamadrid’s final thought grabbed the audience’s attention: “Dear Ms. Conway, I want to speak like you one day, to spin, to pivot, to watch my tongue dance. But I want to be able to believe it.” With scores creeping into the nine point range, Lamadrid joined Estrada in the second round.
The second, final round highlighted the top ten poets from the first round. Estrada’s piece backed away from personal anecdotes, turning more toward addressing the social issue of catcalling. “A lot of men just think of women as pleasure pallets, ignoring how they might be independent, not needing ‘compliments’,” he said in his poem. Although Estrada’s poem was an audience favorite, it unfortunately did not place him in the top five.
As the leading scorer going into round two, Lamadrid continued her momentum. She talked about her religious upbringing and and how she found a new kind of worship in comedy. Lamadrid spoke of advice her grandmother gave her about her love of comedy: “She said, ‘make that your church, you can chose your own bible’.” Lamadrid’s engaging style and clever way with words caught the judges’ attention. At the end of the night, she was named the sixth annual Verselandia champion, receiving a Mac Book Pro laptop and a visit to Wieden and Kennedy, an advertising firm.
Lamadrid believes that her success is largely due to her dedication and the volume of practice she puts into her performances. Her presence at adult poetry slams each month also allowed her to receive feedback on her pieces, which is a resource she thinks most the other poets didn’t have.
Estrada said that one of the things he liked most about performing at Verselandia was having the platform to discuss issues like catcalling. “It feels like your voice is being valued,” he said. Estrada was happy with his success in his first year of slam poetry. “It’s my first time, and I’m still trying to find ways in which I can do better.”