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Slam poetry provides an outlet for creative Bemidji wordsmith

Julia Oxenreider, winner of Bemidji Poetry Slam, works during the day as the produce assistant at Harmony Natural Foods Co-op in downtown Bemidji. Submittted Photo

BEMIDJI – It took a Slam poet to capture the Bemidji Poetry Slam last week at the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts.

Julia Oxenreider arrived in Bemidji almost two years ago to help her sister care for a new baby. She planned to stay  for a little while and has not left.

An alumna of Moorhead State with a major in women’s studies and a minor in creative writing, Oxenreider can point back in her family to other women who wrote and were published.

“My grandma was an accomplished playwright, Sarah Munson Keobnick, who wrote the ‘Fair Beckoning One,’” Oxenreider said recently. “The play was about two sisters growing old. I’ve wanted to write since I was a kid. I went to high school in Montevideo and we had an Interactive Television Class (ITV) on creative writing and they (the school) let me take it three times over.”

The students would bring their work to school, put it in an envelope and mail it to the teacher who would critique it, or as Oxenreider put it, “He was a red ink kind of guy.”

Maybe in spite of the teacher or because of him, Oxenreider was loath to admit, it took a few semesters into college to find the right fit. She started school as an art major, switched to English literature, creative writing and finally to women’s studies with a minor in creative writing.

But it is poetry now – slam poetry to be exact – that gives voice to her thoughts. She writes about not having enough money, not finding someone to love – words that find a home in the hearts and minds of young adults everywhere.

Oxenreider was a contestant for the first poetry slam this past fall and placed second. She likes the concept of the spoken poem; the words look moot on the page and a lot of people do not like them, Oxenreider said.

She is a serious poet who prefers to perform her work out loud to give the words the power she intends them to project. Oxenreider opined that slam poetry falls flat on the page, the reader does not grasp the emotional impact that comes across when spoken.

“What really helps a slam poet is the way that their rhymes work,” Oxenreider said. “It’s actually like rap music in that respect, it has to be read aloud. The first time I tried it in Fargo, I got booed off the stage.”

But when she saw that there was another slam here, she decided to try it again all the while thinking that she might get booed off the stage. And what she got was a receptive audience for her dicey lyrics and prize money. The slam poem reveals the inner being of the poet with humor, clarity and truth without being self-indulgent or spiteful.

Her first poem spoke of the profundity of the world and how she is intrigued by it. The second poem described being high on drugs and that endless treadmill of ups and downs. The prize-winning lyrics made fun of dating websites: what people put out there, the arbitrary questions and the shallow answers that make up the whole profile.

“I got a job right away when I got to Bemidji,” Oxenreider said. “I really like it here (Bemidji), there is a healthy arts scene and the town is amazing: art on the corners and the Bemidji Community Arts Center. The town has a lot going for it and it takes the community (people who live here) to make that happen not so much the college students. The upper 20s to middle 50s range is what makes this town go.”

Oxenreider and a friend, Dani LaClair, have started to appear as “Pitches and Hoes” at Brigid’s Pub open mic, the Blue Ox and Rail River Folk School First Friday concerts. They play guitar and sing original work. They can be viewed on YouTube.

Oxenreider is anxious to start a writing group of like-minded poets here in Bemidji. She writes a blog, which can be found online at She can be reached by email at