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Note: This is my attempt to create a formal, easily referable answer to a question I get a lot. If this doesn’t answer your question, proceed. But if you haven’t stopped here first, I would ask that you do so.
If you just want to know when Writers’ Block Poetry Night slams in Columbus are, go to the link below. I don't usually assume that when people get in touch with me about Slam it’s simply to know our dates because the Writers' Block Poetry Night has a website that already has that information on it. But if that's all you really wanted to know, click the link, good luck, and see you at the show.

If you are interested in poetry slams beyond when they occur and you know little about it, then proceed.

Slamming is a lot of fun - or it's supposed to be - and can be a great learning experience if the poets involved have the right motivations in place when they step to it. So I often ask people what it is about Slam that they think they'd get out of it, or what they want to get out of it before anything else. (PLEASE NOTE: There really isn’t a wrong answer. There is only YOUR answer, but it’s important to answer it before you start slamming.)

There are three things that Slam is (well, more than three things, but there are three main things):

1 - An act
2 - A network
3 - An artistic tool

There is also one thing Slam is not: a style of poetry. I want to spend a little time on this upfront. Trust me, it’s important.

Tip: Don’t call it slam poetry.
If you like what you're seeing when you google "slam poetry",just know that the better word for that is "performance poetry" even though a lot of poets you’ll find on YouTube that perform really well will have roots in Slam (directly or indirectly). A lot of times people use the term"slam poetry" as shorthand for "poetry performed in more than a rote manner." That's not really fair, and it can actually hurt a poet's development to not make that distinction. For instance, if a poet researches"slam poets" they may never come across really strong performance poets like Jayne Cortez or Amiri Baraka or Maggie Estep or Sekou Sundiata. Or even more traditional poets with really great performance gifts, like W. D. Snodgrass.

If your goals are to release an album or share poetry with people or be relevant outside of your hometown, these are things you don't need Slam to do. Slam might be able to help with that, but the way you do so within Slam most productively is by participating in slams, and that takes time and work and there are no guarantees even performing well will work for you. For instance, if you want to be booked within the national network of Slam venues, they need to know who you are. They aren't going to buy your record or hear about you unless you are a slammer in a lot of instances. But to do that, you have to go where their radars are tuned, and that's typically regional and national competitions. Mind you, while Slam is very large and wide spread, it is hardly the majority of poetry avenues that exist. In most cities, for every slam venue that exists there are half a dozen writers groups, open mics, and readings that cater to poets.  Don’t even get me started on publishing.

In short, you may not need Slam to do what you want to do at all.
Let’s talk some more about why you want to do it. People see videos of slam poets and they think, "Okay, I want to slam!" That's cool, but the thing that you don't see in the videos are the results of an ACT of slamming. Those poets are largely being judged in competitions, and the videos don't show that. Even many of the ones you think are great are not necessarily doing well in slams. The reason why it's important to answer the question about why you want to commit the act of Slam is because you are opening yourself up - not just your art, but YOU - to a competitive process. A lot of people fail that test as artists and as people,and that's the downside of doing the act.

So if you just want to be LIKE Slam poets - write work that operates like theirs, perform the way many of them do, generate the same kind of energy - but without that competitive element dogging your every artistic move, the good news is that you don't need to participate in slams to do that.Just keep doing what you're doing now: watching, reading, listening, and executing.Plenty of perfectly good poets do that.

I really just want to drive home the point that Slam is not a style, but an act. There are a lot of styles in Slam, and while a lot of poets sound and look alike, that has more to do with artistic laziness than it does with what Slam requires. You need not commit the act to look and sound like a slammer, just like you need not publish to be as good as someone with a book.

I'm not trying to convince people not to slam (meaning be in a slam and commit the act of slamming). I think EVERY poet should try slamming at least once just to see what comes out of them in that environment. At the same time, I recognize that it isn't for everyone, and that a lot of people can get burned by it if they step to it wrong.

A lot of people come to Slam with a lot of expectations about what it is and how it's going to respond to them. Then when that doesn't happen, all of a sudden the audience is stupid or sexist or racist, or Slam is stupid and sexist and racist, or the sound wasn't right or they were in the wrong venue. In reality, Slam mostly exposes the poet to themselves, and a lot of people aren't prepared to accept what they find, so they blame other things for the reception of their not-ready poetry.

So the questions are important, and when possible, should be asked before you jump in.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
hot_rod_poet
Sep. 16th, 2013 09:24 pm (UTC)
"Slam is not a style, but an act. There are a lot of styles in Slam, and while a lot of poets sound and look alike, that has more to do with artistic laziness than it does with what Slam requires."

Amen.

I also contend that there's no such thing as a slam poem, only poems that have the potential to score well in a poetry slam. Corollary: There are many rants, lists, and stories that have the potential to score well in a poetry slam, but that doesn't inherently make them poems.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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