Is ‘Slam’ Poetry?

You may have heard that Stanzas is branching out with a second event, called Slamzas, because the only thing we love more than words is fitting the word Stanzas into those words in some way.

We’re hoping for this to be a fun, but deadly serious, kind of an event. It’s a competition, not an open mic. There are strict rules, time limits, Dos and Don’ts. It’s got winner and losers – and that’s ok.

But, as we’ve been pondering this event, we’ve also got to think about the nature of ‘slam’, and what exactly is it compared to poetry?

Poetry, of course, is more of a catch all term than a specific genre. Songwriting is a kind of poetry. Movies can be ‘poetic’. There’s poetry-film, dance-poetry, and, the thing you’re most likely to see at Stanzas each month, page-poetry.

So what separates and unifies these elements, and where does Slam fit in?

Poetry, to us, is a sort of philosophy. It doesn’t demand clear narrative, it’s linked by themes or emotions rather than plot and characters. And it doesn’t always need or want to ‘makes sense’. Some poetry is just about getting an idea of a feeling off your chest. Some poetry is about delving deep into you and your place in the world.

Slam poetry can be all of these things as well, but we tend to find that Slam is often more politically oriented than other forms of poetry. That’s not to say Slam is devoid of Philosophy. It isn’t. But your less likely to find a musing on the self in a slam poem and more likely to tackle issues of identity, gender, sexuality, feminism, ageism, and class. These overtly political commentaries are rooted in the Beatnik tradition from whence slam erupted (though yes, slam-like poetry has been around for longer than the Beats,, but that’s another blog post altogether). The Beats rejected the emerging American culture post-WWII and sought to re-connect man with mankind. Their words were powerful bullets ricocheting against an increasingly capitalist and consumerist society.

In the ’80s, slam began to organise into competitive events. The rules were formed: get as close to 3 minutes as you can. Never use a page or a prop. Be a poet and also a performer. Be judged. Win, or lose.

For some, the act of judging poetry is scandalous. Poetry should be witnessed and felt, not critiqued and judged. And that can true or page-poetry (though again, there are many page-poetry competition, but, again, that’s another blog post). But as soon as you gather some poets, create rules, and pit them against one another, you demand for it to be judged. And judging things is fine. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘This poem satisfied these arbitrary criteria more so than this other poem.‘ It doesn’t mean a poem or poet is better than another, it just means in that moment, that place, that time, you won.

So all slam is poetry, but not all poetry is slam. The reason why we’re starting Slamzas is because we want to give everyone both options: either to show up once a month at Stanzas and express themselves in a safe and open environment; or sigh up bi-monthly for Slamzas and have a crack at being the best poet of that particular night.

And if for no other reason, at least you might be able to make a buck out of slam.

*

Slamzas takes place on the first Friday of every other month in The Stormy Teacup. Our first event starts September 1st, and is 5 euro to come as an audience member, or free if you’re entering to perform. See our dedicated slam page to sign up at http://www.stanzas.ie/slam.

As always, if you want to see your own words up here on our blog just send us your ideas to stanzas.limerick@gmail.com. This article was written by Shane ‘Hasn’t a Clue’ Vaughan.

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Is ‘Slam’ Poetry?

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