Black Atticus Discusses the Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam

Black Atticus, aka Joseph Woods, has been performing as a slam and spoken-word poet competitively and professionally for about 10 years. He and Rhea "Sunshine" Carmon began Black Sunshine Arts-N-Entertainment in 2002. Along with hosting the Knoxville Poetry Slam for the past eight years (currently at Time Warp Tea Room on the second and fourth Fridays of each month at 7 p.m.), they are co-hosting the 18th annual Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam. An Austin-East graduate who recently expanded his mostly hip-hop slam repertoire with a performance at Breaking the Silence 2010 in support of LGBT teens, Black Atticus took time out to explain what draws this creature known as the slam poet to the mic—and what Moon Pies have to do with it.

Is slam poetry all spontaneous, or does it just come out that way?

Some slam poetry is freestyle, but for the most part it's written out, memorized, edited, and tested over and over again. At bouts, each poet has three minutes to perform one poem of their own construction, and then five judges from the audience give it a score from zero to 10. The format helps people fight through stereotypes. I may get up and remind you of somebody who used to beat you up in high school, so at the beginning you already might not like me. In three minutes, I may change your mind. The whole point is to get to the final stage, to win cash, and cases of RC Cola and Moon Pies. We all want that, the honor of throwing that at the audience—not the cans.

It sounds so much more organized than you'd expect.

It's very organized, kind of a spinoff of National Poetry Slam, Inc., mimicking their national tournament. There are 22 adult teams, including one from Hawaii, coming in for Southern Fried; they are the best of each city. Some even do this professionally. And this will be the first time there's a totally separate preliminary and finals for youth; they'll be regionally ranked. We're big time ahead of the curve with that.

This has grown to be the second largest poetry slam competition in the U.S. How come?

Mainly, we added a lot more open mics, started dealing with new communities who have a voice. We've got queer slam, hip-hop, spiritual, nerd slam, like that. Slam poetry, spoken word, it's for all ages, all races, creeds. The only thing is, you have to be very much prepared for freedom of speech. I've warned the venues. No one says anything that would piss off an entire audience, because that's counter to the mission. No pornography, and hate messages normally don't make it.

No pornography at the Erotic Open Mic?

That's late night, and it goes into every bit of erotic territory. All the open mics are very true to their titles...

And the "nerd slam," is that a standard title?

It's a highly acceptable term, and the nerd slam is one of the most popular bouts. You have to take a test to make sure you're nerdy enough to compete. Sci-Fi City at the mall is sponsoring, and they have this nerd questionnaire they make you take before you even get hired. We'll let them decide who's nerdy enough. It's really cool.