6th Ill List promises unforgettable night of spoken word

Brash, raw and honest, the Ill List invitational poetry slam features some of the top wordsmiths from around the country.

Now in its sixth year, the annual Modesto event is back at the State Theatre on Saturday. As usual, it's expected to sell out.

The event title is meant to suggest the 1980s slang word "ill," in which bad means good. The idea is to say the competition is one of the "illest" around.

In three rounds, poets will bring out their best material on everything from relationships to children, jobs and political and religious beliefs. It's a free-speech competition, so nothing is off limits.

Randomly selected audience members will score the poems from 1 to 10, with the winners getting $1,500 in cash prizes.

For the first time this year, there will be eight contestants instead of 10.

"There were at least two forgettable poets last year," said MJC English instructor Sam Pierstorff, who organizes the event with Greg Edwards. "We don't want any forgettable poets. We don't want a dry moment in the whole show."

Read on to learn more about this year's competing poets:

• Buddy Wakefield — The two-time individual world poetry slam champion has been featured on National Public Radio, the BBC and HBO's "Def Poetry Jam." Based in Seattle, he also recently signed on to Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe Records label. "Buddy Wakefield is a huge, huge get for us," Pierstorff said. "We've tried for a couple of years for him and things didn't work out for us. Our reputation has grown."

• The Saint (Anthony Gonsalves) — The Stockton resident has won numerous times at Modesto's monthly Slam on Rye poetry slam at Prospect Theater Project. "I'm super excited," The Saint said. "I went to (the Ill List) for the first time last year as an attendee. It was great." A welfare eligibility worker for San Joaquin County during the day, Gonsalves is best known for his humor poetry, including one poem called "Breath Stank," about bad breath. He also shares poems about his Christian faith and occasionally delves into politics.

• Ainsley Burrows — He won the 2008 Ill List. Raised in Jamaica and now based in New York, Burrows has read his poetry at several universities and been featured at festivals around the world.

• Jaylee Alde — A two-time individual national poetry slam finalist, he has performed in universities and bars across the United States. He is a member of the Bay Area spoken-word collective Proletariat Bronze.

• Original Woman (Nitche Ward) — Representing North Carolina, she was crowned one of the top 10 poets in the country by the 2005 National Poetry Slam. She appeared in BET's reality commercial "Mic Check" and has performed for the NAACP, the National Organization for Women and the Democratic Party, among other organizations.

• Jamie DeWolf — The Bay Area slam poet, comedian and filmmaker has performed everywhere from Moscow to San Quentin Penitentiary. He's host of the Tourettes Without Regrets underground variety show, a member of the Suicide Kings trio and a HBO "Def Jam" poet on two seasons.

• Michael Simms — Representing Charlotte, N.C., he was part of a team that took first place in the 2007 and 2008 National Poetry Slams. Simms was born in Cuba and raised in Virginia.

• Queen Sheba — Based in Atlanta, Queen Sheba is a 2007 National Poetry Slam champion and runs "Say What?!?" a national collegiate performance word shop driven by Red Bull. She has appeared on VH-1 and was a poet-in-residence at the University of Illinois, Urbana.