Yo, Philly! You’ve got a new champion.
No, it’s not the listless Sixers or the struggling Flyers. It’s Denice Frohman, a queer Latina poet and spoken-word performer who recently won the Women of the World Poetry Slam in Minneapolis, where more than 70 female wordsmiths gathered to battle in rhyme.
The experience was intense. For three days starting March 6, Frohman performed seven different poems. “It’s difficult,” she says of the slam. “It requires a lot of focus. You’ve got to bring all of yourself to every performance because it could be your last.”
Frohman participated in last year’s slam but watched the finals from the audience. Her goal this year was simply to reach the finals, and she scored well enough in the two preliminary rounds to make it there.
The author claims she didn’t realize what she’d accomplished until a friend pinched her. She quickly refocused. “Once I was in the finals, there was a moment when I thought, ‘Hey, I don’t have to be satisfied with just making the finals; I can go for it!’” she says.
The competition included the defending champion, Dominique Ashaheed, and other poetry slam veterans, but Frohman had the audience of roughly 200 lit lovers cheering her on and emerged victorious.
The win is no small feat for the 27-year-old, who admits that she disliked poetry as late as high school. Growing up in New York City, basketball was Frohman’s first love—she earned a hoops scholarship to Dowling College—until a chance encounter with Def Poetry Jam dramatically changed her perception.
“I don’t have a cute answer for why poetry found me,” Frohman says, “but after being exposed to spoken word, I thought, ‘Wow, poetry can be performed. Poetry can sound like me. Poetry can look like me. I can use poetry to tell my story.’ And that’s good enough.”
Since that initial exposure, Frohman has developed rapidly as an artist. Today, she cites poets Audre Lorde and Gloria Anzaldúa as inspirations for their examination of gender, race and sexuality.
That’s heady stuff, but Frohman seems pretty grounded. She came to Philadelphia to study education at Drexel University and stayed after earning her master’s degree in 2011.
According to Frohman, “As a young artist and a young professional, I find this a very accessible city. The arts and culture are important here, to everyone from the people governing to ordinary folks. If you have an idea, you can find people and make it happen.”
She’s gotten involved in her adopted hometown, too. In 2010, she appeared in a video for the Philadelphia Streets Department’s UnLitter Us campaign, and she’s program director of the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, a nonprofit that helps local teens develop their skills and talents through classes, workshops and poetry slams.
Frohman’s poetry is still her principal focus, though. She’s currently working on a chapbook and a CD, which she hopes to have ready sometime this summer, plus she’s planning a national tour. And that’s more than good enough.