Slam Poems

Slam Poem: Phil West - "Since Graduation"

Posted by Rina Svet:

In this amusing poem, fully titled "Response to Question Number Three On My Ten-Year High School Reunion Questionnaire: What Have You Been Doing Since Graduation?"  Phil West takes us on a little adventure of what he's encountered since graduation.  It's certainly not what you'd expect!


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Slam Poem: Evert Eden - "The Hate of Love

Guest post by Evert Eden aka Adam Ash!

This is a poem that started out as a rant against one woman who'd dumped me and a praise song for another with whom I was having the most excellent sex. I read it at a workshop of a tribe of us downtown Nuyorican poets who met every week in 1993-94 under the guidance of Professor Steve Cannon, the eminence gris of downtown New York poetry and art, and Bob Holman, the founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, who back in those years was the slam master at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

Cannon and Holman have a truly encyclopedic knowledge of poetry and poets, and their comments were invaluable to all of us. Plus when you heard what other poets were coming up with, it invariably influenced you. A young poet who was much influenced by Rimbaud read a short piece that was pretty wild with the metaphors; this one little poem immediately freed me from my T.S. Eliot fixation into the madness of doing whatever the fuck I wanted with language and metaphor. It became an obsession with me to go as far out as I could with the most extravagant shit I could imagine.

Now when I read this particular little rant, one of the poets there that night picked out a line in the middle of the poem that he thought was very strong. Hmm, I thought. In my rewrite, I moved the line to the end of the poem, and then went back over the whole damn thing to anchor the poem around political and cultural strife. Suddenly everything came together, and the poem actually meant something.

One likes to think of a poet as a creature who writes her thoughts in the very private and splendid isolation of an Emily Dickinson, but some of us find that a poem can be improved immensely if it has to fight for itself in the open, exposed to the public gauntlet of other poets.

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.

Slammin' - Susan Ross - White Girl Blues

Posted by Paul Devlin:

This piece is an excerpt from Slammin’  the television pilot that preceded SlamNation. Susan Ross distills the same discovery I made about slam poetry and why I wanted to bring it to as large an audience as possible:  “Everyone has a poem in them...”
 

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Slam Poem: Taylor Mali - "I Could Be a Poet"

Guest post by Taylor Mali!

The first thing I notice about this performance from 1996—when I was 31 years old—is that I move way too much. All that bouncing and flouncing and giggling around! Some might be explained away by greater internal stores of youthful energy, but what I recognize is someone who is trying to hide his jitters with excessive movement. Notice how I never stand with my body fully facing the audience; always I am at an angle. That's a nervous habit that I have pointed out in hundreds of students since then, so it's refreshing to see that I was guilty of the same back then.

As for the poem, which was already six years old by then, it was the first of a series of "parody poems" I have written that got me into a lot of trouble. I mock poets in general and specific poets in particular to throw them off their game, to make them worry about other things besides the best poem to send up in the slam. Notice how when I say, "I know what I'm talking about and you should too," I thump my chest and make some gestures with my hand and the audience laughs for no apparent reason. What you need to know is that Bill MacMillan, my teammate that year, had done a wonderful poem that was entirely in a kind of sign language. My little maneuver probably got me a couple extra dimes from the judges because they thought, "This guy isn't afraid to use his poetry to jab other poets!"

Lastly, I specifically remember screaming at a camera in the front row on the side. I had no idea who was filming or for what purpose. In my head I thought, "This will make great footage for someone somewhere even though I will never see it." Turns out I was only half right.

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And check out Taylor Mali here!

Al Letson NCAA Final Four

Posted by Paul Devlin:

My career at CBS Sports and my work as an independent filmmaker rarely overlap.  That changed one day when CBS Sports producer Shawn Robbins decided he wanted to do a special tease for the NCAA Basketball Tournament that included a spoken word theme.


Shawn knew that I had made SlamNation and asked me to help with casting.  The result is this wonderfully creative piece starring slam poet Al Letson that aired to millions as the opening of CBS Sports’ coverage of the Road to the Final Four in 2006.

Al Letson went on to host and produce one the of the fastest-growing new shows on National Public Radio, The State of the Re:Union


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Slam Poem: Sara Holbrook - "Chicks Up Front"

Posted by Paul Devlin:

This is one of my favorite outtakes from SlamNation.  Sara’s performance is powerful and the piece chokes me up every time I see it.

Sara’s Cleveland team was competing against New York in this bout.  Jessica Care Moore commented in her raw interview about how the New York team (her, Saul, Beau, and muMs) were also affected by Sara’s poem.  Seems like this is when they realized how talented the national slam community really was, with a mixture of admiration and intimidation. The New York team definitely beefed up their game in this second round.

In addition to being a talented slam poet, Sara is also an accomplished author and educator.


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Slam Poem: Alexandra Oliver - "Phone Sex"

Guest post by Alexandra Oliver:

I've been out of slam for ages, though I still keep my ear to the ground as to what events are taking place. I think slam is a viable means of generating interest in poetry, particularly amongst young people--by "young", I mean people who are coming to poetry for the first time. I think it's important though--no, essential!-- for budding poets to not only draw from what they see in the performances of others, but also to look within themselves and obey their own impulses. Reading is so important; just because one wants to be a performance poet doesn't necessarily mean one has to turn their nose up at the printed word. To quote  Marilyn Nelson, the poet of today has the golden opportunity to "own the masters", and to become the artist they were meant to become. Reading is actually what got me started on the road to performing poems; since my teens, I wanted to write like Edith Wharton, but poems came out in the place of prose. Go figure. I guess I was just wired that way.

It was a real privilege to be a part of SlamNation. I remember when Paul and his team came to interview me in my brother's tiny apartment in New York's East Village. Paul strikes me as a dynamo, a risk-taker in terms of his subject choices for films;  I certainly think it took a lot of moxie to make our little movie, but the poetry world (to my mind, anyhow) is better off for it.

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Check out an additional poem and interview with Alexandra here and here!

Slam Poem: Saul WIlliams - "Indigo On"

Guest post by Taylor Mali!

I never got to see Saul Williams perform during the preliminary bouts leading up to the finals, so watching this video was a glimpse into a past I never knew. There are wonderful lines and plays on words here, and Saul works with sound so well. There is a sense of humor, too, which is so important in spoken word. The crowd is small from the sound of it, but they are into it.

It's interesting to note that the piece is too long by "modern" slam standards. The poem itself clocks in at about 3:25, which would have merited a full point deduction under the current rules, but probably didn't hurt Saul back when judges were merely advised that they "could deduct points if the poem went over the time limit." Historically, with such vague instructions, judges NEVER penalized long poems! That's essentially why the rule was changed and time penalties became automatic.

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And check out Taylor Mali here!

Slam Poem: Alexandra Oliver - "Love"

Guest post by Alexandra Oliver:

I wrote my poem "Ring-A-Ding-Ding" a long time ago, in 1996, I think. It was a bolshy, stroppy single girl's response to married men hitting on me in bars (this only happened a few times, but it was enough to prove tedious.) A journalist who saw me perform the poem in Vancouver that same year actually thought I was celebrating the joys of adultery. In reality, it was meant to be an ironic statement about fidelity, self-indulgence and keeping one's dignity in a world where, sexually speaking, anything goes.

Today I consider myself to be not really a slam poet, but rather a page poet who's an enthusiastic reader. When I got involved in slam, it really was in its beginning stages in Vancouver. The community was so welcoming and pleasant; I really felt close to my teammates at the 1996 Nationals in Portland. We (Andrea Thompson, Cass King , Justin McGrail and myself) were rookies and terribly nervous, but we treated the whole experience like we had been sent off to camp. We did take our work seriously, but we threw ourselves into enjoying the festive atmosphere and meeting new friends. I look back on those days with great fondness.

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Check out some interviews with Alexandra here and here!

Slam Poem: Big Poppa E - "The Wussy Boy Manifesto"

Guest post by Taylor Mali!

Like many great slam poems, "The Wussy Boy Manifesto" is steeped in self-righteous indignation, which is the highest scoring emotion in slam. Poems that essentially say, "How DARE you judge me for who I am!" provide the perfect vehicle for the perfect mix of pride, anger, and (as we have here) a little humor. Actually there's more than just a little humor here; BPE stays clear of anything dark or controversial (except for his colorful language) and keeps this very light. Some might say too light, but I enjoy it for what it is. Had the crowd been bigger he might have had a tougher time with what seemed to me like a "false ending" at 2:01 ("I am Wussy Boy. Hear me roar."), but poems were generally so much longer back then that I guess no one would have expected a poem to end after only two minutes. Lastly, notice and appreciate the quality of the video and audio! This definitely isn't Mums the Schemer shooting Saul Williams from the front row with one camera!

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And check out Taylor Mali here!

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