Female voices come to Austin for Women of the World Poetry Slam

Sarah Montgomery

For the seventh year in a row, 72 women from around the U.S. and Canada will gather in Austin to compete, using only their words and a stage. The Women of the World Poetry Slam showcases up-and-coming women with powerful voices in the world of spoken word performance. The kickoff for the festival was Wednesday at Spider House Ballroom. The preliminary rounds, called “bouts,” will begin Thursday at Love Goat and Spider House.

“It’s just an outlet specifically for women to express themselves in ways they possibly couldn’t in other arenas and give them a national platform,” said Tova Charles, the event’s host chair coordinator.

Each poet’s performance will be scored by five judges on a scale of one to 10. After each of the five scores is given, the highest and lowest will be removed, and the three remaining scores will be averaged. The top 12 poets with the highest scores will move on to the finals, which will be held Saturday at Paramount Theatre, where the winners will receive cash prizes and trophies.

Internationally renowned poet Andrea Gibson won the first competition in 2008 in Detroit.  

“I was so flipping excited,” Gibson said. “The finals bout included some of my favorite poets in the world — poets I had admired for years. I think I smiled for a solid month after that.” 

Gibson’s work is famous for highlighting issues surrounding gender roles and rights for the LGBTQ community.

“I think any event in the world that highlights women’s voices is important,” Gibson said. “I think WOWPS is a place where women are consistently reminded that their voices are needed and valued and vital.”   

Local poet Lacey Roop will represent Austin in the poetry slam. In December 2013, Roop competed at Spider House against other local poets for the spot.

“Austin is definitely one of the best places for poetry, especially for women,” Roop said. “It’s great that we have a poetry slam every Tuesday and it’s always packed. For us to have such a remarkable turnout and a big female presence Austin — it’s one of the best cities to host the poetry slam.”

This is not Roop’s first time competing in the poetry slam. She placed sixth in 2011.

“I feel like why I was so successful last time is that I was really dedicated to my work,” Roop said. “I had a really clear mind and a good plan. If I get to the final stage, that’s amazing, and if I don’t, that’s cool too.”

In addition to competitors’ performances, the four day festival will include other themed open mics, poetry workshops, performances, speakers and after parties. Another slam competition, Spitfest, will take place within the festival Friday night at 11 p.m. Spitfest is a quarterly poetry slam competition held in Austin. 

“We haven’t had something of this caliber event since the National Poetry Slam was hosted here in 2007,” Charles said. “I think it’s important for people to see how poetry is done in other places, and it’s good for the poets to see the uniqueness and the culture of Austin.”

Festival passes can be purchased at Spider House Ballroom. Some events will be free. More information on specific event times and costs are available on wow.poetryslam.com.