KC poet earns second victory at W.A.R. slam

Ryan Thompson

David Baumgardner became Washburn After Reading’s (W.A.R.) slam champion of the month August 18 at the Burger Stand.

A slam is a competitive event where poets are given three minutes to perform, with judges selected from the crowd to score competitors on both content and delivery. Common influences are hip hop and beat poetry, leading to an emphasis on hard hitting deliveries, clever wordplay and social commentary.

“There are poems that can compete against a latte foamer and poems that can’t,” said Eric McHenry, associate professor of English and Poet Laureate of Kansas.

Matt Spezia, poet and fellow student at Washburn, created W.A.R. in April and hosts the event monthly. For August’s competition, three poets performed for three judges. Gerald Gibson, representing Topeka, took bronze, while Junction City poet, Sweet Storm, came in second.

Baumgardner won the W.A.R. for a second time, having took first place in April’s competition, as well. This is the fourth W.A.R. slam he competed in, giving him a 50 percent win rate at the event.

Originally from Washington D.C., Baumgardner currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri, where he is part of a poetry slam team, Slam ULIT, with the mission statement of “mind elevation through spoken-word, liberation through literacy.” Slam ULIT recently performed on a national scale.

“The first week of August, we drove to Atlanta, Georgia to compete at an annual event called the National Poetry Slam, which hosts 72 cities and out of 72 cities we ranked 46,” Baumgardner said. “It was pretty amazing.”

Growing up in a struggling area, Baumgardner turned to writing as an outlet and encourages others to pursue the craft.

“If you have a desire to write, continue to write, build relationships, network, sharpen your craft and always think outside of the box,” Baumgardner said.

For each event, Spezia brings in a guest poet to open the competition. August’s slam featured McHenry. After the event, McHenry expressed enjoyment of the competition and interest in returning to the series in the future.

“Matt, who coordinates it, was a student in my poetry class last year and he invited me to be the featured reader this time around,” McHenry said. “I was flattered and a little bit intimidated. I had visions of myself physically being body slammed by other, more charismatic poets. It was a delightfully non-injurious evening.”

McHenry read a number of poems from his latest book, Odd Evenings, including “You’re Back,” about returning to his hometown of Topeka, and “The Gil Carter Correspondence,” about a minor league baseball player from Kansas. McHenry feels the slam setting had an impact on his reading.

“I think I accelerated my delivery a little bit compared to how I normally read and I actually kind of liked that,” McHenry said. “I liked how the poems were kind of rolling. I think too often when I’m reading in a quiet, respectful, still room, I’m savoring every nuance and delivering everything too heavily.”

For more information on future W.A.R. slams and other poetry readings in the area, contact Matt Spezia on your social media of choice.