Slam Poems

Slam Poem: Evert Eden - "Mandela"

Guest post by Evert Eden aka Adam Ash!

This poem was originally called Two Fathers but everyone called it "that Mandela poem”, so now I call it Mandela. It was a useful slam poem, perfectly pitched to disarm black judges. One of my best moments in slam poetry was when I performed it for an audience of over a thousand slam poetry enthusiasts at the Ann Arbor Nationals in 1995, where Deb and Steve Marsh let me read it the evening of the finals, as part of a few pre-show readings.

This was barely a year after Mandela was elected president of South Africa. I remember doing a very relaxed reading, like gentle story telling, as if I were some raconteur, and saving the emotional fireworks for the very end. Well, the crowd went wild, what with Mandela's ascendance to the presidency very fresh in people's minds. Besides, your bourgeois armchair revolutionaries really love to be milked by social justice rhetoric, whether they come from limousine liberal America, Africa or elsewhere. I should know; I'm one of them.

When I walked back to my seat, I saw people in the audience with tears in their eyes, including some cynical, hard-bitten buddies of mine who normally needed a poke in the gonads with a sharp stick to activate their tear ducts.

Another time I read it in Winston-Salem, where a black friend of mine from New York listened and then fled the venue into the night, because it reminded him too much of his own father problems. We remain good friends to this very day, even though we've never shared any confidences about our fathers beyond this poem that apparently stabbed him in the heart as fiercely as it had stabbed me. Sometimes you only find out how powerful your subterranean emotions are by writing them down.

OK, some links. My book of poems, Suck My Poem, is available here, and my novel Vagina Rebel is available here.

These days I've reincarnated myself as Adam Ash, singer-songwriter, who performs solo and with his band the Dingbots. Check out my band's CD here and follow my music career here, where you can also listen to three of my songs, including the rather bizarre My Girlfriend Got Freaky with a Strap-on.

SlamNation: Marc Smith - "Steel Mills"

Posted by Paul Devlin:

This piece is from one of the daytime showcase events at the Portland National Poetry Slam. It’s a exuberant, fanciful rumination on nuclear destruction from the man who got it all started – Marc Smith, Father of the Slam.

Marc Smith is the founder of the Poetry Slam Movement and is featured in SlamNation.

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SlamNation: Andrea Thompson - "Firebelly"

Posted by Paul Devlin:

Great example of an identity poem from Andrea Thompson. This one was an extra, but another, “After Kissing,” made it into SlamNation to show how hot the rookie Vancouver team was, almost beating Taylor Mali.

I was able to catch up with Andrea a few years ago in Toronto when I was shooting parts of BLAST! there. You can catch up with her too, in this interview.

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SlamNation Trailer

SlamNation: Regie Gibson - "No Poetry Today"

Posted by Paul Devlin:

Here’s Regie Gibson on the Finals stage at the National Poetry Slam in Portland Oregon. An accomplished writer and performer, Regie went on to become an individual National Poetry Slam Champion. He is also featured in the New Line Cinema film Love Jones, which is also based on his life.

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Slammin' - Evert Eden - "I Want to Be a Woman "

Guest post by Evert Eden aka Adam Ash!

I Want to Be a Woman became one of my signature poems in my slam years from 1994 to 1999. You know how it is: you road-test everything you write, then you find that two or three or four or five poems get the highest scores, and sometimes you stick with them for years. People used to complain that Patricia Smith did the same two poems three years running to win the Individual Slam, but hey, those were the ones that scored highest for her, so what was she supposed to do -- perform some other poem and lose?

I Want to Be a Woman was actually going to be the first in a long series of gender, cultural and other reversals, but after I Want to Be a Woman, I only got to write I Want to Be a Black Man. I never got round to I Want to Be a Dog and I Want to Be God and I Want to Be a Murderer and I Want to Be a Republican and I Want to Be a Dictator.

I performed I Want to Be a Woman as my final poem in 1997 to qualify for the individual finals in Connecticut, and managed to score a whole bunch of tens (in the actual finals I screwed it up royally). I remember Michael Brown telling me that my performance was like a levitation, like I was flying or something. I wish I had a video of that performance, because it was my best performance ever of anything I've ever performed ever.

I've seen this with many poets: the one time they hit a transcendent incandescent note. It's an absolute blessing to be there when it happens. In fact, there's nothing greater. I can recall such moments from many poets: Patricia Smith, Marc Smith, Lisa Buscani, Wammo (the one about the bar), Dana Bryant (the one about the heat down south), Maggie Estep (the one about being a lady vampire), DJ Renegade (the one about Miles), Da Boogie Man, Gayle Danley (at least three of her poems, when she burst on the scene in Asheville), Michael Brown, Sheila Donohue, the Superheroes group poem (best group poem ever), Regie Cabico, Jerry Quickley, Glenis Redmond, Beau Sia, Mayda del Valle, Morris Stegosaurus, Reggie Gibson (the one about Hendrix), Cass King, Taylor Mali, Roger Bonair-Agard, Derrick C. Brown (what a funny guy), Shappy Seasholtz (Butterfly, just for starters), Sara Holbrook, Jeffrey McDaniel (the one about the submarine full of midgets), Rachel McKibbens, Lynn Procope, Sarah Jones, Scott Woods, etcetera and on and on into the long good night. Heck, I remember a performance of Beau Sia when he was just making shit up on stage from moment to moment, freestyle-style, and he was on like a boner on a bat, and it was LOL hilarious. And I remember seeing Bob Holman do a whole show of his poems, with a friend on percussion and other instruments, and it was utterly mind-blowing. The memory of those incandescent performances are burned in my mind like laser etchings. When poets hit that spot in your brain, that spot stays lit up forever.

Another good moment with I Want to Be a Woman was when I ran across a student who told me he used it as an audition piece to get into drama school. I walked on a cloud for days after that. It's not that often that you find your work has actually helped someone achieve a dream.

OK, some links. My book of poems, Suck My Poem, is available here, and my novel Vagina Rebel is available here.

These days I've reincarnated myself as Adam Ash, singer-songwriter, who performs solo and with his band the Dingbots. Check out my band's CD here and follow my music career here, where you can also listen to three of my songs, including the rather bizarre My Girlfriend Got Freaky with a Strap-on.

SlamNation DVD 
SlamNation Trailer
Slammin' Trailer

SlamNation: Team Austin - "Tube"

Posted by Paul Devlin:

“Group Pieces” are a truly unique art form that has emerged from the National Poetry Slam competition. The concept of a team of poets created by the competition naturally led to interest in collaboration. Some of the most innovative performing art I have ever seen on stage has been Group Pieces at National Slams, with poets using their voices and movement to create a masterful mix of vocal music and rhythm. Multi-dimensional poetry.

But a slam team is a fragile, ephemeral phenomenon, and a Group Piece exists as performance for a very short time. It is near-impossible to re-create after poets go their separate ways. As Taylor Mali points out, if a Group Piece is not recorded that season, it is usually lost forever.

Thankfully, this classic Group Piece from Team Austin was recorded for SlamNation. Wammo, Danny Solis, Phil West and Hilary Thomas were masters of the Group Piece that year. They were favorites to win, but as can be seen in the movie, the competition played out differently...

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Slam Poem: Taylor Mali - "What Teachers Make”

Guest post by Taylor Mali!

The first thing to notice about this performance, which comes from the final stage of the 2000 National Poetry Slam in Providence, RI, is how loud the audience can be BEFORE the poem starts. You can hear someone yell out "I love you Taylor" before I begin; but that's tame! Sometimes that good-natured hooting and hollering can last almost 30 seconds, and if you're not prepared for it you can lose your focus.

The second thing I notice is how short my hair is. I really do look like a Republican! The quirky laugh that I give to the lawyer twice is something I have stopped doing over the years because I think it's distracting. Notice that when I take the mic off the stand, which I always do at the exact same moment, the sound quality becomes appreciably worse. I wonder why I didn't hear that and move it closer to my mouth?

Lastly, of course, a pirated version of this exact performance has been on YouTube and received close to 4 million hits. Consequently, whenever I begin this poem today, depending on the venue, the audience is filled with people who either clap in excited anticipation or roll their eyes and groan, "Not THIS old poem again!"

This poem is part of the 2000 National Poetry Slam!

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And check out Taylor Mali here!

Slam America Bus Tour: Shappy Seasholtz - "Butterfly"

Guest post by Shappy Seasholtz!

Hello, poetry lovers! My name is Shappy Seasholtz and this here is a video of me performing my poem "Butterfly". At this point in my illustrious "spoken-word career", "Butterfly" was considered my "signature poem" meaning I performed this ridiculous piece hundreds of times. To me, it was the "Satisfaction" of my poetic repertoire, like when you go to a Rolling Stones concert you expect them to play "Satisfaction". Sometimes I don't even understand that metaphor since I'm really more of a Kinks fan.

I wrote "Butterfly" for a Rod McKuen tribute show that famous rock poet Thax Douglas put together at the Lounge Ax in Chicago sometime in the late 90's. Rod McKuen was probably the last poet to show up on prime-time network television. He was a huge phenomenon in the late 60's and early 70's reading sappy love poems behind canned music. My mom had his books and an 8-track called "Listen To The Warm." I figured what could be a more groovy topic for a poem than a butterfly? Especially one with a drinking problem? I have since performed it with jazz combos, punk bands, at comedy clubs and, of course, poetry slams.

When this video was shot we were in the last miles of Gary Glazner's SlamAmerica 2000 bus tour. A crazy poetry experiment in which a rickety tour bus drove various slam poets across the country to perform a slam poetry revue in support of Gary's Slam anthology that had just come out from Manic D Press. Somehow it had Grand Marnier as a sponsor which meant us broke poets could drink as much of the syrupy orange liqueur we wanted. I haven't touched the stuff since.

We were all psyched to be performing at a NYC venue. Everybody turned it up to 11 that night. In 2000, I was on my first ever slam team (despite having been around the slam scene since 1991) representing the Mental Graffiti team out of Chicago so I had a huge chip on my shoulder and was ready to kick ass at Nationals which were in Providence, RI that year. I ended up in a 3-way tie for 11th place in Individual Finals tying a former National Champion and a NPR radio host which was impressive but kept me from the Finals stage. Our team got to semi-finals hosted by New York City poet Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. She thought I was an asshole because I refused to shake her hand as I walked on stage. Needless to say, I feel heads over heels in love with her, and later moved to New York City to be with her. We've been together for 11 years.

But back to this vid: I think Paul caught me at great point in my poetic path. This was my New York coming out party. I'm cock-sure, a little buzzed and fucking with the slammers heads in this video. Who knew that a year later, I'd be moving to Gotham to help Bob Holman open the Bowery Poetry Club or that two years later I'd be on the first team fielded from the BPC, and that we'd win the 2002 National Poetry Slam with the Urbana Slam team?

So I guess you could say this performance really helped me earn my wings! Get it? Wings?

Thank you! I'll be here all night!

Uncle Shappy's Chuckle Parlour!

Follow Shappy on Twitter!

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Slam America Bus Tour: Cass King - "Silence"

Posted by Paul Devlin:

A truly touching piece from my friend Cass King, performed on the New York City stop of Gary Glazner’s Slam America Bus Tour. Cass’s main gig is The Wet Spot and her production of SHINE: A Burlesque Musical has enjoyed great success.


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Slam Poem: Saul Williams - "Untimely Meditations”

Guest post by Misha!

Imagine Divine Inspiration slipping one of Saturn’s rings on Pure Talent’s finger and the two of them joining together in holy matrimony. Feel the blissed out perfection of these two beating as One sweetly singing truth. Lose and find yourself in the om of “Untimely Meditations”.

For me, there is no other spoken word performance that can even begin to hold a candle to Saul Williams’ performance of this piece in SlamNation The Movie. I have been waiting for years for this clip to become available on-line so that I could more easily share it with friends. Not even Saul’s own other performances of this poem compare to how electrifyingly he is plugged in to the divine wow in this presentation. There are great works of art that usher us into other realms. This is one of them.

~ Misha

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