The “Berzerkeley” Poetry Slam is the longest-running slam in NorCal. Our first competition at the Starry Plough was held in 1998 as a fundraiser for the local college radio station, KALX. It was such a hit that we were invited back to start a regular show, which began in March of 1999. Ekabhumi Ellik (formerly Charles Ellik) and Lilitu Shahar Kunning (formerly known as Dani Eurinome) teamed up to produce the show.
Due to the overwhelming popularity of the slam, we went weekly in 2000, with Nazelah Jamison hosting once a month and Charles hosting the other weeks. Nazelah’s night was called “Chicken Grease,” and it had its own separate staff. In 2008, a full rotation of emcees was introduced, one per week. In 2009, Betsy Gomez took the helm as official Slammaster while Ekabhumi produced the highly successful Individual World Poetry Slam. In 2010, Ekabhumi retired from actively participating in the slam, and in 2012, Katelyn Lucas and Sevan (formerly Lucky 7) joined Betsy as co-slammasters. After Betsy retired at the end of 2013, the show was run by committee for some time before electing its current Slammaster, Jaz Sufi.
For many years, the slam held an annual Finals to select five poets to represent Berkeley at the National Poetry Slam. Poets earned points by finishing in the top four at the weekly open slam, and the top 16 with the highest cumulative points advanced to Semifinals, held in the Spring. The top eight poets from Semi’s advanced to Finals. Competition was notoriously tough, though generally it stayed friendly and even mutually supportive among the poets. This cycle of competition provided motive, focus, and momentum to the poets and the weekly show. It also provided a narrative to the competition which helped bring our audiences in every week.
At the National Poetry Slam, the Berkeley Team regularly finished in the top 10, including a 4th place finish in 2004. The team also won many local and regional championships. Teams generally acted as our “house poets,” meaning they got free admission to the slam for the rest of the year and performed as a team at many poetic events and school assemblies. The Berkeley Team often acted as an incubator for local talent, many of whom went on to shine on other teams and as solo touring performers.
Many nationally-renowned poets and slam champions anchored their West Coast tours with a gig in Berkeley. Our list of past features reads like a “Who’s Who” of performance poets, including virtually every National and International champion in the English-speaking world. Our show helped to attract talent to the Bay Area from all over the world, most of whom then also performed at other local events, enriching the entire community. Our reputation for having a large, intelligent, supportive audience is a great source of pride.
For many years, the Berkeley Slam was the only weekly poetry slam in NorCal, and it remains so today. It acted as a hub and testing ground for the community. Not only did the regular poets become important contributors to other local shows, but the organizers helped launch other events. Most of the other dozens of slams that have existed in NorCal since 1999 either sprang directly from our show (such as the Oakland Slam, Tourettes Without Regrets, UC Berkeley Collegiate Slam, Coast Slam/Fort Bragg, Petaluma, Marin, and Santa Rosa slams), or the other shows were supported by our regulars. For more than a decade, Charles edited a weekly email calendar called the NorCal Slam UPDATE, which lists all of the local slam-related events and has thousands of subscribers. For several years, workshops and writer’s groups were held at the Starry Plough immediately before the show. Building community was as much our goal as entertaining our audiences!
PAST BERKELEY POETRY SLAM EMCEES AND STAFF
(alphabetically by first name)
Aaron Gardner, Cassie Lewis, Christian Drake, DJ Agana, DJ Tekneek, Dre, Ekabhumi, Geoff Trenchard, Isaac Rodriguez, Jamie DeWolf, Jaz Sufi, Jelal Huyler, Joyce Lee, Karen Ladson, The Lemon Limelights (our first house band), Lilitu Shahar (formerly Dani Eurynome), Matt Blesse, “Mumbles” Baraka Noel, Nazelah Jamison, Nonameko Rigmaiden, Thadra Sheridan, Tim “Toaster” Henderson, Sam Sax, Syzygy, plus many other guest emcees, DJ’s, musicians, and generous volunteers.
PAST BERKELEY SLAM TEAMS
2015: Jaz Sufi, B Deep, Brandon Melendez, Jordan Ranft, Joshua Merchant
2014: Imani Cezanne, Toaster, Abe Becker, Brandon Melendez, B Deep.
2013 (Unified Team with Oakland, SF, and San Jose): Sam Sax, Katelyn Lucas, Cameron, Toaster. COACH: Nazelah Jamison
2012 (Unified Team with Oakland, SF, and San Jose): Sam Sax, Katelyn Lucas, Cameron, Lisa Evans. COACH: Jamie DeWolf
2011: Leo Bryant, Katelyn Lucas, Sevan, Wonder Dave, Terry Taplin. COACH: Betsy Gomez.
2010: Jelal Huyler, Lucky 7, Lee Knight Jr., Trashcan Poet, Stephen Meads. COACH: Betsy Gomez.
2009: Abe Becker, Danny Scuderi, Johnmark Huscher, Lee Knight Jr., Lucky 7. COACHES: Lucky 7 and Betsy Gomez. Group Piece champions!
2008: Christian Drake, Abe Becker, Jason Bayani, The Poet “-i-“, Laura Yes Yes. COACHES: Ekabhumi and Betsy Gomez. Battle Of The Bay champions!
2007: D.Silence, Christian Drake, Jamie DeWolf, Isaac Miller, Joshua Walters. COACHES: Ekabhumi and Betsy Gomez. Battle of The Bay, NorCal Win & You’re In Regional, West Coast Regional Slam, and Salmon Slam/Pacific NW Regionals champions!
2006: Jon Brown, D.Silence, Amy White, Karen Ladson, Christian Drake. COACHES: Thadra Sheridan and Geoff Trenchard. NorCal Win & You’re In Regional champions!
2005: Jaylee Alde, Lucky 7, Liz Green, Jason Bayani, Dahled. COACHES: Charles Ellik and Dani Eurynome.
2004: Cheryl Maddalena, Nathan Henderson-James, Mesej 1, Jaylee Alde, Andrew Lowe. COACHES: Charles Ellik and Dani Eurynome.
2003 (Unified Team with SF): Jason Bayani, Jaylee Alde, Rupert Estanislao, Jamie DeWolf. COACHES: Charles Ellik and Dani Eurynome. Battle Of The Bay and West Coast Regional Slam champions!
2002: Jamie DeWolf, Karen Ladson, Geoff Trenchard, Rupert Estanislao. West Coast Regional Slam champions!
2001: Karen Ladson, Claire Lewis, Amy White, Paradise. COACHES: Charles Ellik and Dani Eurynome.
2000: Team comprised of poets from Berkeley and San Francisco competed at Nationals as the San Francisco team. Battle Of The Bay and West Coast Regional Slam champions!
1999: Berkeley Slam acted as a qualifier for the Oakland Slam team, which finished 3rd in the nation overall, while Charles coached the San Francisco Slam Team that tied for the win! San Francisco was the Battle Of The Bay, West Coast Regional Slam, and Salmon Slam/Pacific NW Regionals champions as well!
1998: No team from Berkeley.
THE COVETED GOLDEN MACARONI BELT
The highest award a poet can win at the Berkeley Slam is the COVETED GOLDEN MACARONI BELT (CGMB). It is donned by the winner of our annual Team Finals.
Each one is hand-made, unique, and highly prized. It is a lot of work to make, and originally was intended to be handed down from champion to champion, but our first winner, Omolara, announced from the stage, “You’re gonna have ta pry this shit from my cold, dead fingers!” and thus (s)heroically began an annual tradition.
In 1998 and 1999, the belt was awarded to the San Francisco champion, as there was no Berkeley Team at the time. In 2000, because Berkeley and SF joined to create a unified team (and because Finals were held in SF) no belt was created. Amazingly, that year there was four-way tie for 1st place in the Team Finals (four poets with a cumulative score of 59.5) so perhaps this was for the best!
When Ekabhumi switched to being the slammaster of Berkeley, he took the tradition with him, and it has continued to this day.
GRAND SLAM CHAMPIONS
2015: Jaz Sufi
2014: Imani Cezanne
2013: Tim “Toaster” Henderson
2012: Katelyn Lucas
2011: Leo Bryant
2010: Jelal Huyler
2009: Sevan Boult, aka Lucky 7
2008: Christian Drake
2007: Douglas Mungin, aka D.Silence
2006: Jon Brown
2005: Jaylee Alde
2004: Andre Jackson, aka Paradox.
2003: Jason Bayani.
2002: TIE: Karen Lason and Jamie DeWolf
2001: Michael Cirelli
2000: No champ this year
1999: TIE: Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Ariana Waynes
1998: Jennifer Russell, aka Omolara