Armadillocon Poetry Thunderdome 2017



(Pictured, from left to right: Michelle Muenzler, Holly Walrath, Juan Perez at Armadillocon #39, Austin, TX, Aug 6, 2017)




Deep in the heart of Texas, a crowd gathered to watch four poets duke it out in ancient Thunderdome style in the second round of Poetry DEATHMATCH! Guns were drawn, words were slung, and the tradition plows ahead as the poets limp home, wordless but exhilarated.


But what is a Poetry Thunderdome? First crafted at Comicpalooza, Thunderdome brings together a group of speculative poets to duke it out in front of an audience in a LIVE writing exercise. Audience members participate by yelling out prompts and poets are given a short period of time to write a poem in response. Hilarity ensues.


Before entering the battlefield, three poets met to bandy challenges and boast of the one poet they knocked out before she even entered the ring! “We took her out!” The words rang through the room as Holly Walrath and Michelle Muenzler cackled from the sidelines. (Okay, okay, one poet just couldn’t make it that day. We’ll take the credit anyway.) They took stock of the competition, travelers from far across the great state of Texas, come to take up arms in the form of the mighty pen.




From the Big City: Michelle Muenzler, known at local science fiction and fantasy conventions as “The Cookie Lady”, writes fiction both dark and strange to counterbalance the sweetness of her baking. Her short fiction and poetry can be read in numerous science fiction and fantasy magazines, and she takes immense joy in crinkling words like little foil puppets. If you wish to lure her out of hiding, you can friend her on Facebook or chase her down at a local SF/F convention where she will ply you with hundreds of home-baked cookies while gleefully describing the latest horror she’s written. For more information, feel free to lurk about her website at


From the Bayou: Holly Lyn Walrath, an author and freelance editor. Her short fiction and poetry has appeared in Strange Horizons, Liminality, Abyss & Apex, The Vestal Review, and The Fem, among others. Her poetry was recently nominated for a SFPA Rhysling Award. Holly currently resides in Seabrook, Texas with her husband and two cats. Find her online via Twitter @hollylynwalrath or


From the Coast: Juan Manuel Pérez, born and raised around the onion fields of La Pryor, Texas, is the author of many full poetry collections, poetry chapbooks, and poetry workshop workbooks. The award-wining poet is also the 2011-2012 Poet Laureate for the San Antonio Poets Association, El Chupacabra Poet Laureate (for lifetime), the 2005 People’s Comic Book Newsletter Award Winner for Best Comic Book Poetry, and the 31st Annual Southwest Texas Junior College Creative Arts Contest Over-All Literary Award Winner (Poetry & Prose) in 2012. Juan is a ten-year Navy Corpsman/Marine Medic with combat experience in the First Gulf War (1990-1991: Desert Storm with the 2nd Marine Division/2nd FFSG) and part of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force, United States Marine Corps Relief After Hurricane Andrew during the 1992 Hurricane Andrew Relief Operation in Homestead, Florida. Currently, the author worships his Creator, teaches history, writes poetry, and chases chupacabras by the Texas Gulf Coast in Corpus Christi, Texas.


As they stepped into the dusty conference room, their greatest fears were realized. An audience gathered, a bit bemused by the concept of a poetry deathmatch, but armed and ready with an arsenal of imagination! One heckler, with a pleasant smile but sinister bald head, joked that he was ready with the meanest prompts he could think of, and the poets quaked in fear.


Poetry Thunderdome began with a reading of the venerable poets previously published works, in hopes they might scare the competition into backing out with their mighty verse.Juan Perez shared pieces from the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s stalwart, Star*Line, including “Miff-ology” and “Vanity.” Perez also gave the audience a sneak peak of some new works in progress, sure to grace the pages of your favorite Chupacabra-Zine in the future. The audience was in stitches thanks to Perez’s pithy verse.


Holly Walrath regaled the room with the dark and haunting “Hart Island,” first published in the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s themed online journal Eye to the Telescope (Ghosts Issue) as well as the small and powerful “Confessions of a Supermassive Black Hole,” due out from Grievous Angels later this year.


Michelle Muenzler cast a spell over the room with the magic of her verse, reading “The Traveler’s Answer,” forthcoming in Polu Texni, and “Memories of Lethe,” first published in Dreams & Nightmares Magazine. She also read “frog prince” a scifaiku from Star*Line and took a moment to explain the difference between haiku and scifaiku for the audience.




Readings aside, the poets were ready to get in trouble! Audience members participated by throwing out three different topics. Once the topics were set, the poets were forced to write a single poem using each of the three topics, with only TWO minutes to write.


Much bemoaning was heard from the ring,where the poets laughed or cried in the face of the challenge before them.




The first round audience choice featured the three topics “Solar Eclipse,” “Dragons,” and “Dark Matter is Dark.”


In response, Holly Walrath offered up this short poem:


Dragons are born in the heart of solar eclipses.

They travel in dark matter

and in our world invisible,

we know them only for their light

blinding us in the flares of dawn.


By the second round, the audience was feeling feisty. It chose “Atheist Jackalope,” “Egypt,” and “Third Eye,” as the topics for our poets writing delight.


In response, Michelle Muenzler gave us this gem:


it’s not the third eye that gets you

that one has all the knowledge after all

it’s that fourth eye

the one that sees the jackalope in the corner of the bar

drinking whiskey and whining about his in-laws

just flown in from Egypt

and maybe it’s the drink talking now

but as far as you knew

there were no jackalopes in Egypt

…then again, somebody had to build the pyramids


As the third round came, the poets were weary, their heads rested upon their stone tablets (Okay, a rickety conference table), but they refused to let poetry die and raised their eyes for one more prompt, “Chocolate Chip Cookies,” “Grave Robbing,” and “A Welder’s Torch.”


In response, Juan Perez enthralled us with this succinct haiku:


grave robbing welder

opening metal caskets

like taking cookies


In the end, no vote was taken that day, for they three were crowned winners all and each was granted a cookie from the gracious Muenzler, Queen of All Things Sweet and Poem-y.


Do you like the idea of a Poetry Thunderdome? Continue the tradition! We’d love to see more future events of this kind at your local con. If you do host one, be sure to send us a write up.


Want to try out a few prompts of your own? Here are the others that the audience came up with:


Cthulu / Tax Collector / Moby Dick


Music / China War / Love


Can you fit all three into one poem? Bonus points if you time yourself! Who knows, you may be the next contender for POETRY THUNDERDOME!







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