Poetry Slam


As you may know, I write poetry. I have presented at poetry gatherings and readings.
However, I do have a confession: I have never been to a poetry slam, I have never
participated in a poetry slam, and to be honest, I wasn’t really sure what a poetry slam was. 

 Whew. I have come clean. I feel better now.

 Fortunately, my dear friend, sculpturer, and poet Jake Webster introduced me to Coleen Hoover, who works in the creative writing program at Notre Dame; she is the dynamic person who hosted the event.  Last Friday, Hoover brought in Marty McConnell, who is a slam poet and an academic poet from Chicago. McConnell enlightened us with the quick and dirty basics of slam poetry.

Slam poetry was invented in Chicago by a guy named Marc Smith.  In 1984, in a Chicago club called Get Me High is where slam poetry started. Eventually, slam poetry took off and moved to Chicago’s famous Green Mill Jazz Club. Now there are poetry slams all over the country.

Basically, McConnell shared with us that slam poetry was a gimmick to get people to come in and share poems.  This is how a typical poetry slam works:

A designated MC will ask random people in the audience to be judges. There are five judges to serve on a panel. The judges have cards ranging from one to ten.  After a poet recites a work (usually at three minutes), the highest and lowest marks are thrown out.  The magic number is thirty.  Sometimes there are multiple rounds to eliminate poets with lower scores, sometimes there are not.  Many times there are prizes for competitions.

What also differentiates slam poetry from performance poetry is that poetry slams traditionally ban costumes, music, and props.

McConnell, author of the poetry book Wine for a Shotgun, told us about slam poetry at the Green Mill: people can boo or stamp their feet if they do not like a poem. (I personally don’t know if I could handle the rejection.)  McConnell workshopped with two talented slam poets, and then she gave a great demonstration herself.

McConnell also used a clever acronym for the workshop: PAVES.

P=pacing and speed
A=action and stillness
V=volume and enunciation
E=emotion and authenticity
S=shifts and variety

There will be a slam poetry contest at the Snite Museum on Thursday, April 18 at 5:00 p.m. 
Perhaps I will prepare a three-minute slam. Perhaps I will be chosen to be a judge, or to hang out indiscreetly in the back. I’m not sure yet. At least I now know what a poetry slam is.

 

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