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White Plains Library Slam Team Heads to Charlotte

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Eric “ZORK” Alan, a 10-time National Poetry Slam competitor and professional poet, is the slammaster for White Plains Library’s Westchester Poetry Slam Team.

White Plains has one of the top slam poetry teams in the country.

The White Plains Library’s official Westchester Poetry Slam Team will compete in the National Poetry Slam Championships in Charlotte from August 7-11. The White Plains Library-based team is sanctioned by Poetry Slam, Inc. (PSI), the non-profit governing body of poetry slams worldwide.

A poetry slam is a contest where people come up in front of the audience to perform their poetry. Three to five judges are chosen from the audience and each give them a score from 0 to 10, and the highest scores at the end of the slam are the winners.

“This will be the fourth time we’re sending a team,” Miriam Varian, the adult services librarian for White Plains Library said. “Our team has taken part in poetry slams during the proceeding year. They have to finish in the top three in one of the slams to compete in Charlotte.”

White Plains began hosting slam poetry in 2004 and started forming a team in 2006. The library hosts slams on the first Wednesday of every month except August. Due to July 4, July’s poetry slam will be held on July 11. The slams sometimes feature some of the most prominent slam poets.

The slammaster is Eric “ZORK” Alan, a 10-time National Poetry Slam competitor and professional poet. Alan grew up hating poetry his entire life, and said he accidentally became a poet at 30.

“I was the shyest person you will ever meet,” Alan, a 48-year old White Plains resident who has lived in the city for 43 years, said. “A boss of mine said you should do something about your shyness. I went to SUNY Purchase and took an acting class.”

The acting class led Alan to performing monologues, but instead of traditional monologues, he brought an e-mail he wanted to write to a girl when he couldn’t express his feelings to her in person.

He was encouraged to bring the writings to a poetry open mics and later found out about a poetry series in Bethel, Conn. and discovered slam poetry. Everything clicked from there.

“I found it very rewarding,” Alan, who tunes up Macs when he’s not writing poetry, said. “I would always go up wearing a t-shirt that said I Am Not A Poet and introduce myself saying ‘I am not a poet, I don’t write poetry, here’s an e-mail.’”

Alan said he feels slam poetry competitions makes poetry entertaining, and that it makes a mockery of competition.

“You have to try to communicate and entertain and move people,” Alan said. “The score is ridiculous, it doesn’t matter. It cements the relationship with the audience. You politely boo the judges if they give a bad score.”

Alan said that anyone who shows up to the open mics in White Plains is going to have a good time and be entertained. And while the team usually finishes in the bottom half at the national competitions, he said they always enjoy meeting the unique voices out there.

“One year we brought a poet who did a heartbreaking love poem to a Victoria Secret mannequin,” Alan said. “There is an incredible spectrum of poems and poetry; it’s all ages and walks of life. We’re just tickled pink about that.”

Alan said that he got the ZORK nickname when he attended Boston University and jokes that a lot of alcohol was involved. He said most people know him as ZORK and it has become his defacto middle name.

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