Whether it's a concert or a poetry slam, a performer needs to vibe with the audience. Poet Nico Wilkinson generally tries to make slam performances feel like a conversation with the audience.
"That's what's great about slam is that it's a callback thing," they say. "People are supposed to show their reaction. It's not just a tidy poetry reading."
The 22-year-old Colorado College graduate co-founded the monthly queer open mic at Mountain Fold Books, which was nominated for Outstanding Poetry or Spoken Word Performance in this year's Pikes Peak Arts Council awards. They also act as community outreach director for Hear Here, which was also nominated for the PPAC award. Recently, Wilkinson traveled to Moab, Utah, and won at Spit Love, a queer poetry slam and part of the city's Pride festivities.
"Their performances always offer the deepest authenticity," says Susan Peiffer, Hear Here executive director and current Pikes Peak poet laureate. "Nico consistently bares themself on the stage [because] they are so fiercely grounded in the importance of speaking truth and the responsibility of being a poet engaged in a modern social context. Nico stands out [because] they show up every time, wholeheartedly, sacrificing their own comfort and safety to be faithful to their art."
Already a consistent writer, Wilkinson got into slam poetry after discovering the work of Andrea Gibson in high school. YouTube led them from Gibson to the now-defunct Def Poetry Jam to modern groups like Button Poetry.
In 2012, just after graduating from high school, they traveled to Denver's Mercury Café to slam. And Wilkinson bombed, as one does.
"I can't even remember what the piece was," they say. "I think it was a love poem. I think it was very cute, and I say that as someone who does write a lot of love poems, which can feel like a taboo in the slam community sometimes." Wilkinson didn't have the opportunity to slam in Denver for some time, and it was almost a year before they learned about local slam scene.
"As a part of a class, we did a class trip to a Hear Here slam, and I slammed," they say. "I got second place that night with some new pieces... it was this piece about my body and trees. It was a self-love piece." Under the mentorship of CC assistant professor Idris Goodwin, they continued to develop as a poet.
"Any time I get to share a stage with Idris, it's a great feeling," they say. Most recently, Wilkinson released their first album of spoken word poetry on Bandcamp, titled good morning, cruel world.
When Wilkinson gets onstage, it's more than just a conversation with the audience. Often, it's a conversation with the past.
"For a while, I was thinking about how a lot of the pieces I was writing were things that... I would picture myself at 10 or 12, when things were getting bad for my mental health and my eating disorders." they say. "Especially if I was having a hard time and couldn't connect with the audience, it would be like I'm talking to myself at 12 and trying to say all of the things that nobody said to me, the things someone should have said to me."