Jacki Lyden in for Tom Ashbrook
Slam Poetry turns 25. We’ll celebrate with some of the best slam poets in the country.
Ever been to a Poetry Slam? It’s a fabulously popular spoken word contest of three minutes A movement turning 25 years old. Been to the White House, bars of Chicago, Boston San Diego, Singapore, your front door.
Listener out there pouring coffee driving taxi maybe waiting for the dentist teeth-pulling tax paying. Imagining everything is possible coast- to- coast when maybe all that’s possible is
This hour On Point: Poetry Slammers. Maybe you can compete, don’t delete.
Scott Woods, president of Poetry Slam Inc., the non-profit that oversees the National Poetry Slam and two other national slams.
Regie Gibson, winner of the 1998 National Poetry Slam.
Keith Ruckus, slam poet based in Austin, TX.
Slam Poetry Isn't For Everyone
Jackie Lyden: Susie is calling from Brookline, Massachusetts. Welcome to On Point, Susie.
Susie: Hi, Jackie. I’m glad to be here. I’m calling with sort of a counterpoint which I can’t help but notice is underrepresented in this hour. I was a member of Stone Soup Poetry in Boston in the early ‘90s when the slam was first brought there from Chicago. And after one time or two, the leader—the late Jack Powers who was a venerable poetry leader in Boston—said that it just wasn’t the kind of scene that he wanted at his venue. And we, a bunch of us, also agreed with that. The main problem was that it does, it does remain a competitive scene. It’s sort of like a bull fight. It’s like an Americanization of poetry, whereas Stone Soup and I believe the Beat generation is more supportive and encouraging to novice poets. And I have seen poets demoralized after they received like a 1 or a 2. I saw it many times. Poetry—
Lyden: So it wasn’t for you and that’s not your idea of poetry, Susie?
Susie: No, in fact we called ourselves PUNS, Poets United Not Slammed. I think a lot of poets are sensitive people. And, you know, the focus is on the presentation, not on the content. Not only that, the judges are not qualified; they’re just selected at random, and yet they have this power to humiliate and embarrass sensitive poets.
Lyden: All right, well, thank you so much for the counterpoint, Susie.
Slam Poetry Is A Supportive Community
Lyden: Let’s take another call. Leslie is calling from Nashville, Tennessee. Hello, Leslie.
Leslie: Hi, Jackie. Thanks. I just—well, I could actually reply to that last question. I was part of a very exciting slam scene here in the Southeast in the ‘90s in Knoxville. And we were privileged to host twice the Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam and brought in poets from all over the Southeast. Knoxville also hosted a team from England at one point, and we just had poets coming through monthly. And I found it to be an enormously supportive community. The business about competition, I think—one of the things we always tell poets is you got to check your ego at the door. You don’t want to take yourself too seriously. You take the work seriously. You take what you’re trying to do seriously. But you got to check your ego at the door. And I think that’s a way for poets to have a really good time with what they’re doing and for the audience to have a good time as well. I feel that nobody is more qualified to judge a poem than people who’ve never experienced poetry before. I think that you get some real honest reactions that way—
Lyden: All right.
Leslie: —with people that I want to connect with.
Lyden: All right, great. Thank you so much for calling in, Leslie.
Taylor Mali - "What Teachers Make"
Anis Mojgani performs Shake the Dust at HEAVY AND LIGHT.
Patricia Smith - "Building Nicole's Mama"
This program aired on August 3, 2011.