Poetry / Poetry Slam

SpokenWord Saturday – What is Slam?

LAURENGARBUTTPHOTOGRAPHYSPOKEN WORD is an ancient oral tradition and art form that involves performing, speaking, reciting poetry but intertwines story-telling and word play, sometimes collaborating with song, music, theater, or dance.  Performance poetry starts with poetic components – such as rhyme, repetition, slang, improvisation, and other elements of writing but then weaves a layer of performance into the words themselves, using the dynamics of tone, gestures, facial expressions, and more. [reference/read more]

The tradition of combining poetry with oration comes from the Ancient Greek lyric poets performing poetry at their Olympic Games and contributing to political and social discourse through their performance art.  Modern North American spoken-word poetry has origins in the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, the form and genre of blues music as well as drawing influence from the 1960s beatniks.  The term “spoken word” was first adopted to explain the new art coming out of the postmodern art movement. [reference/read more]

Spoken word poetry is a grassroots art movement reclaiming poetry from the literary elite and putting the oral tradition back in the hands of ordinary people. As a result, there is tremendous potential for us to use our writing as a tool for social justice and to give voice to marginalized stories and experiences. Exploring political issues that they care about, [poets] meaningfully address those issues and craft compelling and interesting poetry advocating for social justice.  |  |  Poetry as Activism Lisa Slater  |  |

EVILPATRICKSHANNONPOETRY SLAM is an energetic competition between spoken word poets, popularized in the 80s – first in Chicago then in NYC and now spreading across the world.  Poets perform original work without the accompaniment of props, music or costumes and are then judged by random audience members on both their poetic and performance prowess! Poems are judged on content, delivery, and originality, with an emphasis on the connection between performer and audience.  Audience members are encouraged to participate, to get involved with the poems by cheering, snapping, hissing and by applauding or booing the judges’ scores.  Winning poets often win a cash prize and go on to perform in larger team or national competitions. [reference/read more]

A quarter of a century ago, an American poet named Marc Smith created a new format for an open mic poetry show by giving three random audience members score cards and telling them to judge the poets on a scale of one to ten. The scores encouraged the audience to be rowdy, to be involved in the experience, and to give direct feedback to the poet—usually enthusiastic support, but not always. When this format caught on and began being replicated in other cities around the world, poetry slam became a movement—one where all voices and poetic styles were welcome. No poet has ever been required to write or perform in a certain way to take part in a slam. It’s an open mic, not a genre or a school of thought. … Slam is a populist movement based on the idea that everyone should have the chance to share their work without an expert pre-judging whether or not the poems are good enough for public consumption. —Chris Gilpin

HOWEVER, this is simply an introduction and attempt at definition for the many people who ask me “What is this poetry slam thing you’ve gotten involved with?”  The nature of spoken word, of slam, of the genre of performance and/or poetry is far more nuanced than the basic introduction above.  I’d highly recommend this FURTHER READING, an excellent article by Canadian poet Chris Gilpin: Slam Poetry Does Not Exist: How a movement has been misconstrued as a genre


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