Lawn Gnome plans for new slam season, improvements and student involvement

Within the restaurants, coffee shops, clothing stores and other various hangouts in Downtown Phoenix lies a quaint bookstore known as Lawn Gnome Publishing. As said online, Lawn Gnome's knowledge of poetry, independent zines and DIY bookmaking is what sets it apart from "other ho-hum booksellers." Something that also may set it apart from other bookstores are the weekly poetry slams held in the store's backyard.

In fact, Lawn Gnome was first created in order to hold poetry slams. Shop owner Aaron Hopkins-Johnson has been performing in poetry slams for years and wanted to have a space in Phoenix where poets can perform weekly.

"Phoenix is one of the original cities that started slamming, and I immediately wanted to do it," Hopkins-Johnson said. "I have been on four national slam teams. I've competed internationally and after years of doing that, it was time for me to step in as a facilitator."

This season's poetry slam nights at Lawn Gnome are hostessed by Hattie Jean Hayes, a broadcasting freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

For Hayes, watching her first poetry slam at Lawn Gnome was much easier than actually performing.

"I was too much of a coward to bear my soul," Hayes said.

After hearing from Hopkins-Johnson that he needed a new host for the slam nights, Hayes jumped on the opportunity. Each slam night, Hayes makes sure to gather poets and judges, introduce each poet and name off the scores the poets get from the judges.

Until the end of December, every poetry slam night at Lawn Gnome will be treated as qualifying slams where the poets who perform earn points. The top 10 highest-scoring poets will compete in a championship slam night where the top four poets of that night will be selected for a team to represent Phoenix at the National Poetry Slam in Oakland, Calif. Last year, the Phoenix slam team took seventh place.

"I love poetry slam as a sport, as a competitive event, and I love it because it makes people create poetry," Hopkins-Johnson said. "I'm sick of people just going up there and reading poems that don't connect with anyone."

In order to have the slams and come up with a team, participants must pay a fee to an organization, Poetry Slam Incorporated, and follow certain rules, like having five judges and six poets.

When it comes to the audience, the more the merrier, and the better chances there are of being able to go to the national competition, which only accepts 80 teams from across the country.

Frankie Marchi, a communications junior, has been writing poetry for two years now and is trying out for Lawn Gnome's poetry slam team.

"I'll hopefully get onto the team, work with other poets, work on some team pieces where we all perform together and really help each other's language or writing in general," Marchi said. "Then we will just try to win nationals."

Lawn Gnome's goal is to make the store a "home away from home" and after January, it will start charging for its events so that it can make improvements, like providing more comfortable seating, heating and a possible snack bar.

For Hopkins-Johnson, however, as long as a person is contributing to the art and understanding the importance of other's ideas, they should be allowed to come free of charge.

"Hopefully that's a contagious thing and lots of people come, support it and we create a scene that's larger than what a lot of cities have," Hopkins-Johnson said.

Students, community members and just about anyone can find information about poetry events around Phoenix on the Phoenix Poetry events Facebook page.

Reach the reporter at or follow her on Twitter @KatieFaller

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