[This not footage from NPS because I wanted yall to have the uncut version]
Being in Chicago this last week has been somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster. We arrived at 10:45pm, and one of my teammates and I were immediately dropped off at the “Rookie Slam”- the event that allows only NPS rookies to compete. It was awe-inspiring to be in a room with so many wordsmiths!
The next night, Wednesday, was my team’s first bout. I was nervous! And excited!
And I had yet to realize how emotionally unprepared I was for the evening.
My team had chosen me to be our closer, so I performed in slot 3 of round 4.
At the beginning of Round 4 I left the room, unease and a desire to get my mind right filled me like incense in a small room, I felt in my spirit like I should add an intro line to my piece- A RISKY ASS MOVE BECAUSE WE’RE TIMED AT A MAX OF 3 MINUTES AND 10 SECONDS- AND THEN I FELT LIKE I SHOULD JUST DO A WHOLE DIFFERENT PIECE. AN UNPREPARED PIECE. A PIECE THAT WAS OVER 3 MINUTES AND 10 SECONDS.
And I couldn’t shake the feeling.
I told myself, “nah just do what you came here prepared to do”,
but my spirit grew louder, “Perform Good Twin Dichotomy and add that new intro line.” And I buckled, because the spirit wouldn’t leave me alone.
The MC of the night called out to my team, “Urban Spoken Word, who are you sending up?!?!”
Look. My team had no idea I’d called an audible 3.5 minutes before I’d went on stage. They thought they knew what I was gonna perform.
WELP. GUESS NOT.
My performance itself was fine. But I was 40 seconds over the time limit, and as such I got deducted A LOT of points. Pre-deduction I had scored the highest on my team. However, Post-deduction I was blessed with the lowest score.
And then the MC announced the places of the bout.
My team took 4th, dead last.
I went to congratulate one of the poets from another team who I’d seen at the Rookie Slam, “Congrats dude!”
” Your piece was dope bro”, he said to me.
I told him how right before getting on stage I changed what piece I was gonna do, and in changing the piece, I made a decision to not be competing this bout, as it was score-suicide to intentionally do a piece 40 seconds over the time limit.
And he said back to me, “that’s okay bro, you did it for yourself, you can’t guilt yourself for that.”
And he was right.
But I was still an emotional trainwreck on the inside. I’d known that my team and I weren’t going to be able to compete and WIN at NPS, that we were there for the experience. But I was shook because why the heck did I just change my piece? Why did I commit score-suicide? How the crap did we come in last? And last but not least, maybe I ain’t worthy to be here? Maybe I’m just frontin’ and I ain’t ever been good- in fact probably my creative ceiling is mediocrity. Maybe I should quit writing because I can’t compete??!
I left that building swift as a sudden storm, without telling any of my teammates, and
caught the train back to our hotel.
I wanted to be alone. To get some emotional and physical distance from that huge L my team and I just took.
But I needed to talk to a friend. To be listened to, and heard. So I called one.
They helped me gain a better perspective on the evening.
I wasn’t foolish. I was courageous.
I did even know what Slam Poetry was until 2 months ago when I was invited to be on the Madison Team. Everybody else at Nationals had been preparing for the last 10 months to be here at Nationals. I was different. I was like a G-League player, called up to the NBA. I was courageous. Bold. Innocent, even, of the kind of work that went into being on a competitive team- and still I showed up.
To my doubts I say this,
“And though they may loom over me like Giants
I, like David, aligned with the Divine on a quest for self actualization
will build a House upon the same rock I slingshot at Godspeed
toward any giant who opposes me”
Thursday was our team’s final bout pre-semifinals (we ended up not making semi’s.)
and I was committed to showing up and showing out. I wanted to be recognized. So, that morning I went to a room of the hotel and reworked my piece. Originally the piece was about 4 min 30 seconds, and I could perform it fast enough to shave about 60 seconds off- which would still incur a time penalty. In the weeks leading up to NPS I had become fine with that because our team “wasn’t going to NPS to WIN, we were going for the experience”. But, fueled by the night before, I wanted to compete. I wanted to see how I’d do if I took the evening seriously and tried my best. So I shaved stuff out of my piece so it would be on time.
That night I was our team’s closer, and this time I was assured of the piece I was to do. I performed Affirmation II which is the only piece I tailor wrote for the National Poetry Slam.
I scored amazingly well. Out of 12 competitors that night, I was scored top 3, again head of my team, and this time, ahead of most of the competition.
When the MC announced the bout outcomes, my team placed 4th. And when I heard that, I didn’t have an existential crisis like the night before. I confidently knew that Wednesday and Thursday I had done my best, and both nights what my “best” looked like was vastly different to the outside world. But I was conforming to the spirit that directed me, and that HAD to be enough. Enough for others, sure, but more than that- enough for me.
Before the MC ended the night, he made a point to call out a few poets who had lines he’d salivated over, and he started with me, he said, “Matthew!! That line.. and when they lost interest it felt like my value dropped off a cliff?!! Hey! Everybody! Say, Yo Matthew”
“You belong here!”
“You belong here!”
And they’re right. I do.
Because I forfeited nothing but my limits to come here
and I belong here.
My team: Tony, Julia, Me, F.J
EVEN GOT A LANYARD.
Tony bout to burn down the stage because he spits hot fire
Stayed in a Hilton Hotel. Had a ballroom. I felt very out of place. But ALSO very valued.
They call this a Boutfit. What you wear to your bout. and 9/10 was one of my scores. FUEGO.
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