Happy Belated Independence Day! I hope you managed to make it through the Fourth of July with your fingers and liver intact. I celebrated our nation’s birth with the traditional P’s: Patriotic music, Powerful explosions, charred animal Products … and Poetry.

Poetry? Perhaps you’re thinking that pentameter isn’t particularly apropos for an independence celebration. Last week I probably would have concurred, as verse isn’t the first thing I think of over a holiday weekend. For most of the decade, my annual Independence Day ritual has involved parking on the roof of Universal Orlando’s gargantuan garage, firing up a cigar and watching the attraction’s sky-flower show sans admission. But construction on Harry Potter’s future home spurred the resort to scale back this year’s spectacle, so I resorted to pre-Fourth fireworks of the verbal variety.

J. Bradley, proprietor of the Broken Speech Poetry Slam, has been politely peppering me for almost a year with invitations to attend the weekly exhibition at Stardust Video and Coffee. Last Thursday’s edition promised to crown a new Broken Speech Extreme Intergalactic Heavyweight Champion, making it the perfect time to check out the competition. Arriving at the Winter Park hipster hangout about a half-hour before kickoff, I fought my way to the food (love the broad beer selection and tasty tater tots, but the counter is always constipated chaos) and settled into a table at the rear.

The warm-up event for the evening featured Curtis Meyer vying against Laney to become No. 1 contender for the BS-X Haiku/Senryu Championship. It was a 17-round head-to-head battle, and both poets’ compositions challenged my preconceptions of the 5-7-5–syllable micro-verses we all remember from elementary school. Laney was judged the winner of five rounds with her comic quips cribbed from classic jokes, like the old saw about the elephant and the blind man. But Meyer came out on top thanks to the variety of his verselets, which ranged from thoughtful meditations on spirituality and sickness to crowd-pleasing pokes at Dave Matthews and Blink-182. A second haiku face-off between J. Bradley and Dani O. saw Dani’s smutty sensuality winning out over Bradley’s political snark.

The headlining performer of the night was Ryk McIntyre, a “slam legend” and member of the 2008 Worcester poetry competition team. A resident of Massachusetts, he’s a full-time poet who supports his literary travels by selling chapbooks and other compilations of his writings. The gravel-voiced poet began with a prose-poem rant about how “we can’t trust maps anymore,” lamenting how legends lead us off course, deceiving us into thinking that a person standing on the opposite side of the globe isn’t exactly the same as we are. The rest of McIntyre’s works were an interesting mix of pop-cultural and painfully personal: a first-person poem about Batman (“I dress like a bat, this makes me a realist”) that earned apocryphal approval from author Harlan Ellison; a touching tale about telling his “Sedated”-obsessed 6-year-old of Joey Ramone’s death.

Finally it was time for the main event. The run-up to the BS-X Intergalactic Heavyweight Championship sounded as fraught as any WWE storyline, minus the spandex: Reigning champ Dark Magick Mariah recently abdicated the crown, and top contendaer Ronin Kobyashi had to drop out due to a family emergency. That left Meyer, winner of the earlier haiku bout, to compete against Tod Caviness in a best-of-three battle for the belt. Tod authored a cherished poem for me and my girlfriend at the last Fringe’s Poetry Vending Machine on our favorite subject: cheese. (“You melt in me/bitter and salty/it is the taste of the forbidden/and I pray to your temple/oh Gouda”). Caviness came on strong with a trio about wall-dwelling leprechauns (“No one cares about the rainbow, only where it ends”), an emotionally imprisoned Incredible Hulk and the agony of answering a certain newspaper’s customer-complaint calls. (“So sorry, man!”) It wasn’t enough to beat back Meyer’s whirling-dervish wordsmithery, which captured the title with breathless odes to hip-hop and “feminist bitches.”

Next week: Nerd Slam, a combination trivia contest/geek verse-off, with prizes provided by A Comic Shop.

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