SlamNation

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: Crystal Williams - "In Search of Aunt Jemima"

Posted by Paul Devlin:

Crystal Williams performed “In Search of Aunt Jemima” at the semi-finals  of the 1995 National Poetry Slam in Ann Arbor, MI.  She received the only perfect 30 of the event (back before the phenomenon of score inflation in poetry slams).

I had recently made the pilot Slammin’ at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in New York. Very excited about sl
am poetry, I decided to expand my interest and to introduce myself to the National Poetry Slam organizers, with the idea of making a TV series.  

In Ann Arbor, I met slam founder Marc Smith and slammaster Steve Marsh for the first time.  They were very suspicious of me!  Slammin’ was slick and MTV-like and they were concerned about someone from New York sweeping in and co-opting their movement.

After some negotiation, they allowed me to shoot the event.  But only under the condition that I give all the tapes back to the organizers.  For me it was most important to get the event documented, so I agreed.  

I hired a crew to shoot multi-camera coverage of the semi-finals and finals at the venerable Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor (a homecoming for me – I went to undergrad at University of Michigan.)  I also interviewed many poets who went on to become slam celebrities. Eventually, I gained Marc Smith’s trust and went on to make SlamNation.

So there is great material from the 1995 Nationals - as this video demonstrates -  but none of it has ever been released.  Until now.

Hopefully, someday these performances will become part of Poetry Slam Incorporated series of National Poetry Slam Videos.
Let them know there’s interest!

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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!

Slam Poem: Wammo - "Doing Time On Isle 13"

Posted by Wammo:

When Paul Devlin told me he was going to post a video of one of my 1996 National Poetry Slam performances and asked me if I'd like to blog about it, I thought to myself, "The nerve of this guy, who the hell does he think he is? Drudging up publicity for me and trying to get people interested in my work. Why I oughta... Next thing you know, he'll be posting a link to my website, where intelligent and insightful people go to buy art. Where does he get off?" We all know that Paul Devlin is an anagram for Plan U Devil, so it figures he's up to something devious.

Besides, how the hell am I supposed to remember some poem I performed in 1996? Do you know how much I've had to drink since then? I sure as hell don't and I was there...

For more from Wammo stay tuned for his next poem: Too Much Light In This Bar!

Happy New Year everyone!

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Slam Poem: Dan McGinn - "The Color of Cody"

Posted by Paul Devlin:

I couldn’t find the right spot for it in my movie SlamNation, but this is still one of favorite poems from the Portland National Poetry Slam.  

Soon, slam poets would discover that loud, emotionally turbulent, political, racial, and confessional pieces were mostly likely to win.   The voice of slam poetry began to narrow at the National level.

But before then, when the form was new and poets were less competitively savvy, the Nationals allowed for more diverse styles. There was still room for thoughtful, quiet performances, like this poignant piece by Los Angeles team poet Dan McGinn.  

Merry Christmas everyone, from the DevlinPix team!

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Slam Poem - Tina Wright - "Unnatural"

Posted by Rina Svet:

With the 2010 election coming up this year, touching on so many sensitive issues, we decided to add our own little contribution to the mix.  Another addition from SlamNation, this poignant poem by Tina Wright draws on the delicateness of human relationships… there should never be fear in your child’s heart for love is never unnatural.

We hope you keep Tina’s words in mind today as you cast your vote!

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