Sunday, December 12, 2010

California Dreamin' . . . and Arizona Slammin'

Three months ago, I came in dead last at the semi-monthly Sedona Poetry Slam, when I tried to perform pieces from memory before I was really ready. Yesterday, in a competition that came down to one second and .1 of a point, I won the Sedona Poetry Slam and its $100 prize -- and, yes, I had the poems on paper in front of me. You'd think that would be the lesson -- be prepared -- but you'd be wrong.

Yesterday was also the 12th day of Russmas, the beginning of my countdown to my 31st birthday on December 22. Exactly one year ago on that date, when I turned 30, I moved back to Arizona after twelve years in Fullerton, California. The hardest part of that move was leaving behind a community of coworkers that had become a surrogate family, and their love and support in my life has been one of the greatest unexpected gifts I've ever received. I feared I'd never find such hospitality again.

Fortunately, Arizona is known for its warmth, and I was delighted to find a hot poetry scene in Phoenix. After a few weeks as spectator, I began signing up for the open mic and quickly made a few pleasant acquaintances, first at Conspire's open mic, then at the weekly Mesa Poetry Slam. Its host, the Klute, was actually very careful to greet me and say "see ya next time" every week, which was important to my feeling welcome there at all. Though the Mesa Slam ended, then Sound Effects (hosted by the Valley's most bombastic performer Bill Campana), I'm happy that my friendship with its alumni has continued at coffee every week (thanks again to Bob Nelson's vehicular hospitality) and other readings around town. In a way, the Sedona Poetry Slam and the breakfast we poets shared beforehand ended a year that started under a blanket of insecurity with an assurance of hope and inspiration for the one to come.

You can read about the Sedona Poetry Slam at its host's blog, Fox the Poet. Further, I'll be guest-hosting Conspire's Russmas Extravaganza in just eleven days! Where I once tread with trepidation about feeling welcomed, now I'm guest-hosting on my birthday.

And that's the lesson, folks. Nothing is more inspiring and empowering than the support of your peers. My name is Russ Kazmierczak, Jr., and life has taught me that nothing beats the strength of a strong community.

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