THE ILL LIST: SLAM POETRY STEALS THE SPOTLIGHT
BY SARAH KAY HANNON
Modestans Sam Pierstorff and Greg Edwards knew there was a craving for more entertainment in the Stanislaus County area. They believed poetry could be the niche that set their idea apart from other Central Valley events. In 2004, they co-founded The Ill List, an annual poetry slam contest with a cash prize, reasonable odds of winning, and unparalleled poetry slam artists.
Though it began small, The Ill List has become successful and has hosted multiple up-and-coming poets/comedians. Every December, poets from all over the world are invited to gather at The State Theatre in downtown Modesto and take part in what has been dubbed the most prestigious poetry slam competition in California. Three rounds of original content are spoken by eight individual poets, battling it out for the grand prize of $1,000 cash. The judges? Randomly selected audience members.
Aside from featuring poets, other entertainment—including original short film commercials and live dancers—help create an evening filled with nonstop fun. “Something magical happens,” says Pierstorff about what makes The Ill List particularly unique. “It’s entertaining, but you feel really inspired, touched, your ideology challenged. You laugh and cry. Your emotions are raw and real. The entire experience is compelling.”
It’s clear that this event is dear to Pierstorff, his dedication reflective of the response the event receives. And he’s not the only one. Community response is equally intense. “We have the most ruckus and attentive crowd,” says Pierstorff. “If a poet is speaking, there is pin drop silence.”
It is in these silent moments from the audience that the poets are constructing art, questioning ideals, and creating engaging memories on the fly. Perhaps one of the most memorable moments during competition was when wellknown poet Sonya Renee spoke her piece metaphorically comparable to playing a game of tag, in which she engaged with the audience by walking up and down the aisles. “It was a very unique and daring move,” says Pierstorff.
It’s entertaining, but you feel really inspired, touched, your ideology changed. You laugh and cry. Your emotions are raw and real. The entire experience is compelling.
SAM PIERSTOFF, CO-FOUNDER OF THE ILL LIST
This year’s lineup includes comedian and poet Wonder Dave from Oakland, as well as Asha from San Jose. Scheduled for Dec. 8, show tickets went on sale months in advance and sold out within the first eight hours. However, considering a larger venue isn’t on the radar right now. Despite the high popularity and demand, event organizers ensure that the event will continue to be held at The State Theatre without a second thought— it’s
a home base, with a sense of familiarity.
“It feels like a reunion every year,” says Pierstorff. “I love the lively community feel of the event. And I love how it shows people there’s fun entertainment here without having to travel to the bay.”
If you were not one of the lucky ones to score a ticket for this year’s slam, don’t fret. You can still catch a similar show next summer. This past July was The Chill List, a new team poetry spinoff event. It was so successful, planning for next year is already underway.
For more information, check out the Ill List on Facebook here.