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Rogue Poetry Slam shares 'heart and soul'

Now nearing its fifth anniversary, the quirky, inspiring and always entertaining Rogue Poetry Slam, on tap the third Tuesday of the month at Caldera Tap House in downtown Ashland, features “people who share their heart and soul on paper,” says Slam Master Liesl Garner.

“I can’t say enough good about it. It mixes young and old, experienced poets and new ones, some of it memorized and some reading it from their notebooks,” she says. “It’s truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. It is holy. My eyes are welling up just thinking about how much I love people at the slam.”

It works like this: You pay $5 at the door. Five judges are picked at random. They score each reading 0 to 10. The high and low score of each person is eliminated, and the remaining scores averaged. There are no props, though readers can dramatize their presentations. They are judged on performance, delivery and, above all, by how their poems affect the judges.

“You keep your biases outside, if possible,” says Garner. While no one does it for the money, the pot is divided among the top three poets and can be more than $100.

Longtime Ashland singer-songwriter (and poet) Gene Burnett says he gets the biggest rise out of just reciting his song lyrics as poems. That’s when people listen to the words; otherwise, they're listening to the music, he notes.

“I love that it’s real, live flesh-and-blood people in our community, not glowing screens,” says Burnett. “They say their truth, their ideas in front of the community. It’s the real deal. We don’t care about the competition or winning. You go for the fun, to hang out, listen to my friend and hear them do their stuff. It’s a great opportunity to hear them speak.”

Burnett adds, “What you hear is not some slick hip-hop. Some read about their families and lives. It’s entertaining. I hope people don’t take it too seriously. We go for the poetry first. We go to listen and speak. We’ve seen people not show well at first, too serious, but you get more relaxed. Persistence helps.”

T. Poe Vernado started the slam in March 2013, and it ran at Northwest Pizza & Pasta for a few years. He stepped back recently with health issues, handing the reins to Garner.

“It’s an amazing group of people,” says Garner. “Their process, their words, their heart. It’s truly beautiful and powerful, sometimes soft and sweet, sometimes gnarly. Sometimes it has a bite, and sometimes it growls.”

The Slam is 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. the third Tuesday of the month at Caldera Tap House, 31 Water St. For more, see www.facebook.com/ROGUE-POETRY-SLAM-426576077428819.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.