The World of Poetry Slam

girl w/microphoneThe saying goes that the pen is mightier than the sword. Poetry slams take that concept pretty literally. A poetry slam is a battle of words and rhyme, all to win the hearts—and the high scores—of the judges.

Poetry slams started in Chicago in 1984. Since then, they have spread all over the United States and all over the world. Ireland holds the annual All Ireland Poetry Slam. Competitions can range from local open-signup events to national competitions where qualifying or an invitation may be required.

Regardless of the level of competition, the structure of slams stays pretty similar. Before the showcase begins, a few judges are randomly chosen from the audience. They will be responsible for assigning a score from 1 to 10 for each performer. The competitions are usually divided into rounds with a few poets being eliminated each time. The poets preform a poem that they have written, usually from memory. Poets have three minutes to impress the judges and going over the time will result in a penalty.

The poems and the poets are the real stars of these competitions. Poetry competitions allow them to show off their writing and their bravery to the entire audience. Slam poetry ranges is style and delivery but is made to be read out loud like a high-stakes version of spoken word. Poems can have the rhythm and rhymes of hip hop or they can be fast-spoken rants with emphasis and timing. Slam poetry is all about the delivery. Poetry topics can be political or emotional or just funny. They are usually inspired by life. Slam thrives off of everyone’s uniqueness.

Slam contestants cover a whole spectrum of ages. Recently there has been a rise of a youth poetry slam movement for young people only. Poetry can be an educational tool, a method of self-expression, and a confidence boost. The Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam is on its 19th year in San Francisco. Spoken word and slam poetry is being taught in schools. Slam competitions and open mics are featured in television shows like ABC Family’s The Fosters. Teenagers share their poetry on YouTube for their followers and fans. There are many ways to get involved in the poetry slam world.

University of Texas at Austin student Arati Warrier, 21, has been a part of competitive poetry teams and competed in the Texas Grand Slam last year. She said poetry was always been a part of her life but slam opened up a new dimension of the art for her.

”Writing has always been an important tool for me to cope, vent, live,” Warrier said. “Slam poetry saved my life. To be able to share my work with a community, to watch poets get free on stage and to experience it myself, has been nothing short of religious experience for me.”

For Warrier, slam poetry is a safe place to be bold and explore her life through performance.

“It’s inspiring and cathartic to push my art forward with people who care and feel so deeply,” Warrier said.  “I’m lucky for everything spoken word and slam poetry has given me: better writing skills, empowering performances, and my best friends.”

With a strong following of poets and performers, poetry slams may be around for quite a while. New competitions are popping up in cities all of the time. It may be a relatively new art form, but it has a lot to offer.

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