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Philadelphia, Ep. 2

November 7, 2011 — Before a sold-out house at the gorgeous World Cafe Live, Literary Death Match's epic return to the City of Brotherly Love — presented by Painted Bride Quarterly — finished with slam poet Michael O’Hara out-scoring the inimitable Sean Toner by a 6-4 margin in a literary spelling bee for the ages, winning O'Hara the Literary Death Match crown. 

The night kicked off with Courtney K. Bambrick (poetry editor at Philadelphia Stories), who reeled off a wonderful 14-section poem that included the line that won the judge's attention: "in a world without hands we would masturbate less." Her opponent, representing Murphy Writing Seminars, was Sean Finucane Toner who won the crowd with a trio of stories, two that have been finalists for Opium Magazine's Shya Scanlon 7-Line Story Contest. 

The mic was then handed to the trio of all-star judges: Karina Kacala (of First Person Arts), journalist Jonathan Valania (Editor-in-Chief of, and audio mixologist Cyrille Taillandier. The three were hung up on the possibilty of a world without masturbation, while Taillandier admitted he didn't understand poetry, while Valania lovingly dug Toner's debonair look — his cane and dark glasses, Kacala praised his Toner's narrative twists/turns, and after admitting they adored Bambrick in countless ways, it was Toner who the judges sent on to be the night's first finalist. 

After a drink-fueled intermission, Round 2 pit slam poet Michael O’Hara (author of the chapbook “The Year with No Holidays”) against personal essayist Jamie-Lee Josselyn. O'Hara delivered a spit-flying performance about the awfuls of office work in wonderfully crazed fashion, then the dazzling Josselyn, representing The Kelly Writers House at Penn, read the chronicles of her across-the-country cycling adventure with her boyfriend, featuring a Rocky Mountain Oysters shout-out (a.k.a. sheep’s testicles). About O'Hara, Valania said "That was a performance worthy of a restraining order, my friend" and Kacala said Josselyn's piece reminded her of either This American Life or “like a story slam with less poop.” Again the judges huddled, and after a long deliberation Taillandier admitted “We picked Michael because we were afraid of him.”

Then LDM creator Todd Zuniga took center stage, announcing that the finale would be a Literary Spelling Bee, in which Toner and O'Hara would alternate spelling complicated author names. Toner survived Kerouac, and when confronted with Paul Theroux asked if he could call Paul Theroux to ask him how to spell his name (Zuniga thought it was a joke, but apparently it wasn't!). In the end, though, it was O'Hara who worked his way to victory, conquering many of the letters of Dostoyevsky to narrowly topple Toner, and take home the Literary Death Match medal, and literary immortality with it. 

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