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Rise

Young slam poet Bobby Crawford raises his voice

Marshall Goff

Age: 22

Hometown: Originally from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., Crawford, a senior at Emerson College, now lives in Cambridge.

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Think of: With his youthful energy and sharp wit, Crawford brings life to his written words. On stage he delivers a unique style of confessional poetry characterized by the juxtaposition of high- and low-brow cultural references evoking a modern Frank O’Hara, spoken with the venom-tongued immediacy of legendary punk-rock performance poet John Cooper Clarke.

What caught our eye: Crawford competed on three consecutive College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational teams and at the 2013 National Poetry Slam (NPS) with the Mill City Slam team. Last week, he represented Boston in Spokane, Wash., at the Individual World Poetry Slam (IWPS), finishing 15th out of 70
poets.

Lightbulb moment: “There [is] an organization called Emerson Poetry Project and my friend wanted to take me.” Having written poetry for personal enjoyment for years, but never exploring spoken-word, Crawford agreed despite some hesitation. “Another friend took me to the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge and between those two, I became hooked. I started slamming and attending open mike nights.”

Biggest thrill: “I love [hearing] a poem that’s both written and performed very well — when I know I couldn’t have the same experience unless I was watching this person performing this poem here.”

Biggest surprise: Intimidated at first, Crawford has found the slam community very supportive and open-minded. “At the [IWPS], everyone got along great and had an awesome time. We shared stories and workshopped new poems.”

Inspired by: Citing friends at the Cantab and other writers in the local slam scene as influences on his work, he finds inspiration in connecting with others through words and ideas. Remembering a poem performed at the IWPS that shared similar imagery and theme as a poem he once wrote, “It’s awesome how two people of relatively the same age, from opposite sides of the country would use the same kind of language to describe these things. It turned out that we became friends,” Crawford recalled.

Aspires to: Inconceivably reenergized upon returning from the IWPS that followed a demanding summer schedule, Crawford experienced a renewed urgency to create and perform — exactly the opposite of his original plan to get some much-needed rest. Crawford aims to stay active in the slam circuit honing his craft. Next year, he hopes to compete again at the IWPS and the NPS.

For good luck: Before warming up, Crawford contemplates his stage presence, assessing the venue for important areas to look and figuring out how to best project himself. “A lot of people do vocal exercises to warm up. I focus on warming up my body and loosening my joints by doing a light workout. A lot of people think I’m crazy doing that.”

What people should know: “I was a competitive figure skater for about 14 years. That’s where my competitive background comes from.”

Coming soon: Most Wednesday nights, you can find the devoted bard at his home venue, Central Square’s Cantab Lounge, supporting his peers and debuting new material. On Nov. 8-9, he will be performing at the fourth annual bisexual-themed variety show, Bilicious, at Club Cafe. Meanwhile, in the hours most people need for sleep, he will be working on his second chapbook of this year.

Links: www.bostonpoetryslam.com, www.cantab-lounge.com, www.biliciousproductions.com

Steph Hiltz can be reached at stephanie.hiltz@globe.com.
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