Thursday, June 16, 2011


The best poetry slams I ever went to were run by Crazy Elf. He'd encourage people to insult poets, say things like 'love the poet, hate the poem', and usually end the shows with him getting pelted by a Ninja (who shall here be referred to as The Ninja, because, well, she is). It was just so validating as a poet to be insulted - at most other poetry events I had known to then, the typical response people gave to poems was 'interesting' and 'meaningful'. And besides, I figured, if a roomful of drunk people who were predisposed to say you sucked could be won over, you wouldn't be doing too badly.

But I've been to a few other poetry slams, and heard of even more. There've been slams in town halls, and slams in libraries, and 'exhibition slams', and slams for school students, and sort-of slam events like the various Poetry Idol competitions that they run each year. Slam, slam, slam, all over the country. Which is kind of why I was pleased to see this on Wikipedia the other day:

...I hated it. And it made me really uncomfortable and... it was very much like a sporting event, and I was interested in poetry in large part because it was like the antithesis of sports.... [I]t seemed to me like a very macho, masculine form of poetry and not at all what I was interested in.

So I went to the slam poetry page on Wikipedia, and found another bunch of critics, and then I went to slam founder Marc Smith's page, and saw that even he had been critical of slams, as they have become. I also found this quote:

The very word 'poetry' repels people. Why is that? Because of what schools have done to it. The slam gives it back to the people.... We need people to talk poetry to each other.

And that's just it, isn't it? Poetry slams have gone from being a reaction against poetry taught in schools, and a reaction against the establishment, to something that happens in schools, and something funded by, and endorsed by, the establishment. Oh, I value the people that I've met at slams all right, and have enjoyed most of the ones I've been to - but the transition of slam poetry from being a fresh and exciting movement to something less than that has been quite rapid, really.

I'd still go to Elf's slams, though.


Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

This post is okay but would be improved with more cat photos.

Crazy said...

Well that's totally correct. Slams are supposed to be bringing it back to the people which is the main reason that I ran them the way that I did. The audience was the entire focus of the thing and the poets were there to provide entertainment. The new influx of slams is due to people believing that if you call something a slam it will be hip and popular and people will come, rather than bringing people in the door by doing the work that's required to make it entertaining.

You're a solid performer and can make it on ANY stage, be it poetry or comedy. Anyone who has any aspirations of performing poetry should be able to handle any audience, not just the ones that clap politely. Poets have been able to get away with performing sub-standard drivel for far too long, particularly in Melbourne.

TimT said...

I've been tossing up the idea of having a 'boring poetry competition' for my next zine. Poems judged on the extent to which audience members get distracted. An idea whose time has come?

TimT said...

Baron - yes, good point. So long as they're not lolcats.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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