National Poetry Slam Hits Boston03:13

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Sam Cook's Soapboxing team won one of Tuesday night's slam competitions. (Courtesy Marshall Goff)
Sam Cook's Soapboxing team won one of Tuesday night's slam competitions. (Courtesy Marshall Goff)

How about we do a slam now, whadya say?

The Boston Poetry Slam is this week hosting 76 teams from around the country and the world for the 25th annual National Poetry Slam. A mix of poetry and performance art, the slams can cover anything from politics to social issues to Harry Potter and vampires.

Cambridge's Cantab Lounge hosted a preliminary round Tuesday night. The competition was fierce and the crowd of more than 100 was loud.

White boy knows all the words to the song.
White boy probably thinks the song is about him.
Black girl exotic, black girl other.

The poem "White Boy, Black Girl" deals with perceptions of race, and was performed by a white man and black woman from the New York City group louderARTS.

Emily Kagan-Trenchard is louderARTS' coach and slam-master, or director. She says slam poets want the audience to be engaged, but that makes "White Boy, Black Girl" particularly challenging for the team.

"You've got an entire audience of people who are bringing their own experiences of race, own experiences of all the loaded words that were used in that poem," Kagan-Trenchard said. "And how can the poets bring enough of themselves to the stage that they felt they were getting across what they wanted to have said?"

But it was Soapboxing, a poetry slam team from Minnesota's Twin Cities, that scored the highest and won Tuesday night's event. One of the group's poems focused on political assassinations.

This is how you say something meaningful in America.
If no one is trying to kill you, you are not working hard enough.

"You find yourself a little bit connected to the audience, and there's a flow between you and the audience if you know how to feel it — and it tingles a little bit," said Sam Cook, the Soapboxing slam-master.

The local host of the National Poetry Slam, Simone Beubien, says it's that crowd interaction that makes slam poetry accessible for everyone.

"If you think that you don't like poetry, to me it's like saying you don't like music," Beubien said. "And so even if poetry has never interested you before, this is the week to come out and see if you're interested for real."

The National Poetry Slam continues through the rest of the week — all leading up to the finals on Saturday night.


This program aired on August 10, 2011.



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