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With the annual San Marcos’ poetry slam taking place from December 13th to 15th, many might wonder what actually constitutes slam poetry or want to learn more about the artform. Whether you are interested in participating in slam poetry for yourself, or want an abridged summary of what exactly it entails, these are the basics covering the medium and stars of slam, so you can enter the library on the 15th knowing what it is you are about to watch.
Slam poetry is not actually a type of poetry, it’s a term used to refer to poetry competitions that are performed in front of an audience. Poets perform original work, either alone or in teams, usually consisting of two people, that are then judged by either a panel or the audience. What especially sets slam poetry aside from written poetry is the enthusiasm and manner in which it is delivered, as much a performance art as it is a work of literature.
“Poetry delivered is far more powerful than poetry simply read,” said senior and Writer’s Society Co-President Claire Bjork. “Slam poetry allows performers to convey the emotion behind the words as opposed to letting the reader infer it.”
There are a handful of well known slam poetry competitions nationwide, the most notable being the National Poetry Slam, also known as NPS. NPS is the largest team performance poetry event in the world made possible by Poetry Slam Inc, where teams from all over the country converge in the host city for five days of competition. Much like San Marcos, many high schools across the nation host poetry slams as well as many colleges. Button poetry, a poetry media distributor, has curated a massive selection of poetry slam performances online, drawing from various competitions ranging everywhere from small college events to NPS.
If you are looking to get your feet wet, there are a few poetry slam performances worth checking out. Kanye West has actually performed slam poetry before, his slam poem entitled Self Conscious, performed for Def Jam Poetry, is a slightly unconventional but, nonetheless, awesome example perfect for newbies who aren’t looking to venture too far down the rabbit hole. Blythe Baird’s Girl Code 101 is an analysis of modern gender dynamics, in which Baird addresses the concept of female privilege and sexual harassment. Heart wrenching, hilarious, and deeply moving Neil Hilborn recounts falling in love and dealing with heartbreak while having obsessive compulsive disorder in his powerful poem OCD.
Slam poetry at its core is meant to move and connect with audiences. Though recounting deeply personal experiences, the best slam poet enables the audience to empathize, draw similarities using their own experiences, and relate. Slam poetry, at it’s most powerful, is able to share the human experience of an individual who most likely has faced challenges members of the audience never will but is able to express them in a way where the emotion behind such experiences is effectively communicated to where it becomes broadly accessible. Slam poetry feels as if someone is reading their eloquent, deeply personal diary aloud, an effect that makes it impossible to stop listening or look away.
Photo courtesy: San Marcos library