Marcell Murphy is the Lili Von Shtupp of the Houston poetry scene. As the city's resident slam master (a title he shares with fellow poet/Southmore House slam man Doug Shields), the man is tired, in every sense of the word. Since he attended the National Poetry Slam last year, Murphy has been focused on only one thing: assembling the city's first Houston Poetry Slam Team and taking it to this year's national event in Minneapolis.
He certainly didn't mince words when making the announcement to his fellow spoken-word artists. "I came back from nationals last year," remembers Murphy, "and I was so moved that I put every poet in this city on notice and said, 'I am going to nationals next year with you or without you, period, point blank, end of story. I love y'all, but I will leave y'all asses here.' "
The team lineup -- Murphy, Aaron Trumm, Marie Brown and Karega (who stepped in to replace busy original teammate Black Poet) -- was drawn up at a slam competition last May, and they've spent the summer attending weekly and monthly poetry nights, benefits, silent poet auctions and so forth to raise the $5,000 needed to attend the five-day event. (Murphy says they're almost there.) The team also called in spoken-word vet Tamara Nicholl to coach; she's had prior slam experience, serving on Albuquerque's team for two consecutive years.
It's almost considered a miracle that a group of local poets has come together to do something that could finally elevate the spoken-word community. Many local poets believe that pettiness, egotism, repetition and overall -- for lack of a better word -- bullshit have held back the Houston poetry scene and prevented it from becoming a national presence. "That ego shit gotta go," says Karega. "Everyone has room to grow. And the only way we're going to grow is to work at it, and work hard at it, and love what you do, and do it like you love it."
Still, Murphy thinks Houston has the talent to compete nationally. "I wasn't doing this so much to put Houston on the map per se, but I really feel [that] to grow as an artist, this is something that you have to experience," he says. "Because if you do get into that rut of hearing the same people all the time, I'm not sure you're gonna grow as an artist. But if you go and you experience other art in other places, I think it can do nothing but benefit you, benefit your writing."
As egotistical as some poets may be, enough generous souls showed up at slam-team fund-raisers to send our reps to Minneapolis on August 13. "This team is very aware that it is the community, and the good hearts of the community, that has made it able [for us] to go to nationals," says Nicholl. There may be some hope for us yet. So good luck and Godspeed, slam team -- and however you determine the lodging arrangements, make sure Murphy gets a comfortable bed.