arts and cultureIssue 1

The ILL LIST Puts Modesto on the Poetry Map


If your image of poetry is rhyming couplets buried in a dusty old volume, prepare to have your mind blown. World class slam poetry returns to the stage of the State Theatre on Saturday, December 8 at The ILL LIST 9: A Poetry Slam Invitational.

At the newest iteration of this yearly event, eight premiere poets will offer competitive performances of original poetry through three rounds of judging in a quest to secure $1,500 in cash prizes and the title of Ill List Champion. A selection of randomly selected judges from the audience will score work using Olympic-style scorecards, based on the strength of the poems presented and the quality of the performance.

The ILL LIST is one of the most prestigious staged poetry events in the nation and draws an elite group of slam poets from all over the world to compete for the grand prize and bragging rights. This is a marquee event for the poetry community and, over the last nine years, The event “has put Modesto on the poetry slam map,” said Ill List co-founder and MC Sam Pierstorff.

The ILL LIST’s reputation has grown by carefully selecting world-class poets for each year’s competition, said Pierstorff. “We handpick and only invite eight poets. But poets are banging down our door because they know they have a 1 in 8 chance of winning the title and the money and because we have a great audience. It’s sold out every year and our audience stares and cries and laughs and is just completely engaged. The poets feel that and they carry that feeling back home to North Carolina or New York or the Bay Area, and they tell people.”

The ILL LIST this year will feature George Yamazawa Jr., Robert Zenz, Sam Sax, Nikki Blak, Prentice Powell, Carlos Robson, Katelyn Lucas and Taylor Mali.

Mali is the biggest get in the event’s nine years, said Pierstorff. “Taylor Mali is a slam original from the 90’s. He’s pretty much won every major award there is to win. We’ve tried to get him for years and he’s politely declined year after year. But this year, he’s coming out of retirement for The ILL LIST. We were able to lure him, which speaks to the strength and reputation of this slam. Taylor is our biggest major name but all of our poets are so so talented.”

Pierstorff added that The ILL LIST also offers poets support that’s above and beyond what they receive for most events. “We provide food, hotels and travel stipends for poets. Poets just do not get that kind of treatment anywhere.”

Because the annual event has attracted so many people, it has been able to secure sponsorship from local businesses, said Pierstorff. “Over the last three or four years we’ve had some very consistent local sponsors like Deva Café, Fidelis Construction and others. Their motivation is that they love what we’re doing and want to keep it going.”

The ILL LIST is largely community based and community supported, said Pierstorff. “We have had offers from larger sponsors but we’ve turned them down. We really love the idea of local Modesto sponsors sponsoring a local show with two local guys bringing poetry to this community. It’s felt right and it’s felt close knit and family oriented. Even though there are 600 people in the show, I feel like I know everybody in there by name.”

Tickets for The ILL LIST start at $15 and can be purchased at the State Theatre box office at 1307 J Street or online at

For more information about The ILL LIST, please visit

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