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Since being hounded for the mp3.com video—and, that same year, speaking at the first anti-Scientology gathering in the cult's mecca of Clearwater, Fla.—DeWolf's been more reactive than proactive in his defiance. "I met a guy who spent millions of dollars battling the church in every court. They fought him with every atom of their being and kind of eventually destroyed this guy," says DeWolf. "I just saw the sheer totality of how many lives had been utterly wrecked by this insane, tentacled creature that my great-grandfather created, and I realized, 'Man, there's a lot more that I want to do with my life right now.'"
Even so, in 2011 he was named the one of the Village Voice's "top 25 people crippling Scientology," and he gave a performance last year on NPR's Snap Judgment about his family history. (DeWolf changed his last name from Kennedy to his mother's maiden name after the comedian of the same name started getting popular.)
Such public notice makes his relatives worried. "My family's always been incredibly leery of anything I've said against the cult," he says, "because they've been trying to escape this cult for their entire life."
But is he worried for himself, too? "Uh, yeah," he laughs, nervously. "Their legacy of how they have dealt with their opposition is absolutely, staggeringly disgusting." Bomb threats, phone taps, frame-ups and reputation destruction are just some of the less violent tools the cult has been alleged to have used. "The day that Snap Judgment video came out, I said, 'You've got to let me know when this thing goes public,' because from that point on I was literally watching for suspicious cars, I was making sure that I was always with someone when I was around, I check my damn brakes when I start my car, stuff like that."
Amid this, DeWolf has perfected his craft, racking up awards from the National Poetry Slam and Oakland and Berkeley Grand Slam championships. He was a featured performer on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and, in the middle of touring the world with the poetry trio Suicide Kings, made a stop long ago at Sonoma State University.
DIFFERENT KIND OF SLAM
Briana Sage's North Bay Poetry Slam in Sebastopol sees anywhere from 60 to 150 people for the open mic, featured performer and slam competition format—and the word is spreading. "It's been growing," says Sage. "People have just been coming up to me and asking, 'How can I make this happen?'"
In fact, two monthly slams have started as a result of the NPBS, one at Santa Rosa's Arlene Francis Center (International House of Poetry, hosting its next slam March 15) and one at Cotati's Redwood Cafe (the Barnburner Slam, hosting its next slam March 12). Rather than viewing it as competition, Sage, wise beyond her 19 years, embraces the community vibe. "It's awesome that there are more slams starting around here," she says. "It's just about everybody that wants to come share something, and giving them a place to share."
The Santa Rosa Junior College student started the NBPS in 2010, when she was just 16, after winning the Sonoma County Library Slam in her first public performance. "I started writing when I was seven years old, and from seven to 15 I just performed in front of a mirror and had no idea people ever did these things in front of an audience," says Sage. "I was so shy. I had bad stage fright—like, ridiculously bad."
Watching Sage perform and host, one wouldn't know she even knew the definition of fear.
As a woman, Sage is a minority in the slam poetry world. "It's a sausage-fest," explains Joyce Lee, the only woman to earn the title of Oakland's Grand Slam Champion in the competition's 15 years. She earned a rousing ovation from the crowd of about 80 at Hopmonk last month with topics ranging from her grandfather's toughness to her mediocre vagina.