Israel Hammond Takes on Poetry Slam
Reported by Alicia Pacheco
Israel Hammond has always been a performer, but when he began attending George Fox University (GFU), he found a new creative outlet. His freshman year, he discovered the LatinX Heritage Club’s (LHC) Spoken Word event and took a shot at performing. After a few years of practice with the GFU audience, Hammond has now released a spoken word EP and won the Rip City Basement poetry slam in Portland, while continuing to compete locally and nationally.
Hammond has been writing poetry since he was fourteen, but had never performed his poetry before attending LHC’s Spoken Word Night. When he attended the event his freshman year, he only intended to support his friends who were performing.
“Poetry to me is just my journal space. It was a creative way for me to express how I was feeling. I had never really shared it ever because it was really personal to me,” Hammond said.
The student heading the event at the time pushed him to give it a try, and, though he wasn’t sure he would make a habit of it, he enjoyed it.
“I liked it, being able to play with words and draw an audience in,” Hammond said. “I’ve done theater and acting since I was young so being on a stage has always been something I have enjoyed, being able to share the intimate aspects of my life and my reality with people, whether through a character and acting, and now through a piece, expressing who I am and my experience.”
Although Hammond has been practicing his poetry at GFU for several years now, this year was the first year he stepped up to compete for a larger audience.
His first competition was this past March in Portland. He competed at the Rip City Basement Poetry Slam and won, judged by audience applause. Almost immediately after this win, Hammond traveled to Madison, Wis. for the Black Arts Matter (BAM) event.
“I thought it was going to be a bunch of young people who were new to the scene… and turns out, I watch a lot of button poetry and I’m sitting there listening to these performers and I start to notice a couple of them… There are poets there from Button Poetry, National Poet winners. I slowly became a fan and forgot I was competing,” Hammond said about his BAM Slam experience.
Although Hammond scored well, he did not move on to the finals the following day. The competition was fierce and due to a mix up, Hammond was thrown on stage first, although the line-up had him performing last.
“It was a really good learning experience,” Hammond said. “There’s a strong distinct difference between a spoken word presenter and a spoken word competitor and I think seeing the difference between the two was monumental for me. Now I have a mental bar to rise to or surpass.”
Not only did Hammond get to compete against serious award-winning poets, but he was also met with encouragement by the same poets he admires. “At the end of the event, a lot of them were like ‘You’re a wordsmith. You’re a lyricist,’” said Hammond. “I was just honored to be in the same room with so many poets who take competing seriously.”
That competition was just the beginning for Hammond. He plans to continue competing and writing.
“That was just a nice little taste of what could happen next,” said Hammond.
On March 25, Hammond released his spoken word EP, “Reverse Introversion,” under the name Izzy is Real. This project came after some encouragement from Jesse Cetz to put some music to his poems and record them. Jesse Cetz also worked alongside him on the track “Scars.”
“Each track takes you through different aspects of me,” Hammond said. His EP is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and iTunes.