DELRAY BEACH — Just off Atlantic Avenue on North Swinton Avenue in Delray Beach sits a mid-sized, country- style home. On Tuesday nights, you can step inside and get a healthy dose of good food and slam poetry at Dada Restaurant and Lounge.
The restaurant is sending its own team to the 19th National Poetry Slam, a poetry competition held by Poetry Slam International (PSI), an organization that seeks to promote the performance and creation of poetry, according to its website.
This year, the competition will include 84 teams from North America and Europe. It will take place in Madison, Wis. Aug 4-9.
Dada’s team includes one slam master/coach, five main members and two alternates. The restaurant’s primary team members are Adam “Raff Adams” Freilich, Alexis Caputo, Deborah Magdalena, Matthew “Cuban” Hernandez, Reagan “Mr. Rigz” Mendoza and coach Chris Da Imperial.
According to PSI, poetry slamming is a competition in which poets perform their work and are judged by audience members. Poetry slamming originally started in Chicago in 1984, created by Marc Smith.
Imperial, 40, of West Palm Beach, has gone to nationals eight times as a team member or a coach. But this is his first year coaching the Dada team.
With the exception of” Hernandez, 20, this is the first time any of the team members has gone to the nationals.
“I’ve tried out for the Dada slam team five times before,” said Freilich.
The sixth time, Freilich, 29, of Lake Worth, secured a spot. His poems address his previous battles with drug addiction.
There are light-hearted subject matters in slam poetry, but in general, it is not for the faint of heart. Subject matters range from survivor stories to anti-war politics.
Caputo’s poem, “Breathe,’’ is a soul-stirring piece in which she dialogues with the audience about hope, service to humanity, surviving oppression, and resurrecting one’s self-esteem.
“If given the opportunity, I hope to do that piece at nationals,” said Caputo, of Fort Lauderdale.
Mendoza, 30, of Miami, also brings a powerful social and political voice to the team.
The team meets on Saturdays in Hollywood and practices for five hours.
Hernandez, who lives in Jacksonville, practices via email by memorizing all the parts of the team pieces, in which two or more poets perform together.
Hernandez said team pieces are the key to going far in the slam.
“The team that won last year, team Charlotte, they didn’t do any team pieces in the finals, but they did a lot of team pieces to get to the finals,” he said.
Freilich and Mendoza have a comedic piece called “The Truth About Sex Education.”
“That piece is so funny. They talk about sex education or the lack of sex education, I should say,” Magdalena said.
Magdalena knows what is funny. She spent 14 years as an actress starring in shows like the Apollo Comedy Hour.
Dada’s sponsorship includes airfare and hotel costs. Imperial estimates teams can spend anywhere from $6,800 to $10,000.
Expenses include travel, hotel and food. Most non-sponsored teams do a series of fund raisers throughout the year leading to August.
Previously, Dada has assisted slam teams financially, but this time will be different.
“Dada’s sponsored teams before wasn’t really sponsorship,” said Dada’s manger Chris Gambarini. “Teams would do fund raisers and Dada’s would match whatever they raised.”
Imperial said, “Sponsorship gives the poets the opportunity to focus on their craft and not have to worry about raising money to travel to nationals.”
The coach said he believes this is the strongest team that Dada has ever sent to nationals, and he hopes for the win.
“I want the other teams to be crying when they see us coming to slam,” Imperial said.
For more history on slam poetry, visit www.poetryslam.com
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Alexis Caputo