Two poets tie for first place in Encinitas competition


Fourteen wordsmiths competed in the La Paloma Summer Poetry Jam, presented by Full Moon Poets, on July 30, with two ultimately coming out on top.

Leon Alexander and Mario DeMatteo tied for first place at the annual competition.

Danny Salzhandler, the evening’s host, said both poets were a clear hit with the audience.

“When I am backstage I can’t hear the poets very [well] so I have to go by the reaction of the audience,” he said. “With Leon and Mario, the audience reaction let me know they were nailing it. They both were right on time with three minutes. ... You can tell how long they practice their poems by finishing right under the limit, according to my my stopwatch.”

The winners shared their experiences at the competition, as well as their history with poetry in interviews with the Encinitas Advocate.

Alexander Leon, 37, of San Diego

What were the poems you wrote about and how did you choose them?

I chose poems I thought would reach the hearts and minds of the audience. The first poem I shared, “Internally,” is about how my search for true love parallels my understanding of existence, and the paradox of searching for it in a romantic partner, while having it inside of myself. The second poem, “Between the Lines,” is about my drive to live a fulfilling life by being willing to take chances and make sacrifices, regardless of consequences. The third poem, “The Wonder Under” is about the internal search for purpose and understanding in life.

How did the audience respond to your poems?

I felt that my poems resonated with the audience. It was nice to hear responses in the crowd from time to time that were agreeable to lines I recited or that signified some lines were thought-provoking.

What was the vibe at the competition like?

I felt there was great energy from the other poets as well as the audience. It seemed to be an atmosphere in which the poets and audience were one, rather than poets just putting on a performance for an audience, or an audience being there to see a performance from poets.

How did this competition compare with others?

This is the first poetry slam I have won. I’ve only competed or seen other competitions a couple times. This was a much larger venue and crowd than the other competitions I’ve experienced. I really enjoyed the old-school feel of the theater as well.

Have you competed in this competition in the past?

I competed in this same competition about one-and-a-half to two years ago, but didn’t make it past the second round. I competed in two competitions in Atlanta when I first began performing poetry (about five years ago). I actually just showed for open mics, and there happened to be a competition so I had to compete to perform. On a side note, I began performing poetry to help me get over my fear of speaking/performing in front of crowds.

How did you get your start in poetry?

I started when I was 13 and wrote casually from time to time in high school. I did some rap music in my lower-to-mid-20s. I didn’t do much writing from mid-20s to lower-30s. I started writing every once in a while in my lower-30s and even more so over the past couple years (since moving to San Diego from Atlanta), but still not as often as I would like.

What do you like about poetry?

I like the ability of poetry to relate ideas and feelings in ways that are felt and imagined, rather than just heard by the recipient.

Do you have any published books or anything you’d like to promote?

I have a website with audio files and text of some of my poems:

What’s next on your radar?

I’m looking to find some musicians to perform with and see where the wind blows me from there.

Mario DeMatteo, 33, of Carlsbad

What were the poems you wrote about and how did you choose them?

The poems I shared were very personal to me, though I always hope they will resonate with people and speak into their lives. The first poem is a fable about a roly-poly who [would] rather be a butterfly. It transitions into my own life experience of being in a wheelchair and often wishing I could walk again, but ultimately realizing that I am perfect just the way I am. It is a poem about overcoming our oftentimes negative perceptions of ourselves and having faith that there is purpose for our lives, no matter our situation. The other poem I did was about falling in love in the kitchen with my amazing girlfriend Karla, surrounded by onion soup, Billy Holiday on the record player and the magic of fireplace storytelling.

How did the audience respond to your poems?

The audience at the Full Moon Poets Slam is always amazing and super encouraging.

How long have you been writing poetry?

I’ve been writing poetry and stories since high school. I started taking it seriously a few years ago while attending Cal State San Marcos and later being introduced to the Glassless Minds Open Mic in Oceanside and also the San Diego Poetry Slam in North Park. San Diego has a thriving underground spoken word poetry scene led by a true legend, Rudy Francisco. Last year, the San Diego Poetry Slam Team placed second in the nation out of 80 teams. One day I dream to be on the San Diego Slam Team, which has been a huge push for me to continue to write and improve.

What do you like about poetry?

I love many things about poetry. It is a great way to tell stories and move a crowd. It is an amazing way to deal with depression or anxiety, by breaking out of our shells and becoming vulnerable with crowds of strangers. The poets I’ve met over the years are some of the bravest, most compassionate people I know. Poetry can transform really emotional concepts into universal experiences that aid the healing of both poet and audience. It is a very powerful art form, especially performance poetry, where an immediate visceral response is created.

What was the vibe of the competition like?

The vibe of the slam was super uplifting and encouraging.

How did this competition compare with others?

I love the Full Moon Poets Slam! It is laidback and super fun. The San Diego Poetry Slam is more serious, because poets are competing to make a very prestigious poetry team.

Have you competed in the past?

Yes, I have, many times. I will always compete and support the Full Moon Poets Slam.

Do you have any published books or anything you’d like to promote?

I am the creator and publisher of a Christian graphic novel about Paul the Apostle, set in a futuristic creature world. It is not poetry, but super amazing for Christian parents with kids ages 8-13 as a ministry tool. You can check it out at I am also working on a poetry book as well, which I am really excited to submit to publishers.

What’s next on your radar?

I have a lot of different projects going on right now. Working on two new graphic novels, a children’s picture book, a poetry book and personal website, running a business Beartruth Collective, and always growing tons of food in my backyard urban farm.