Shelley Widhalm

Poetry Slams vs. Reading Poetry

In Poetry, Reading Poems, Writing Poetry on May 31, 2015 at 11:00 am

I’ve been to both poetry slams and poetry readings, and I haven’t quite figured out slam poetry: what it is and even how to write it.

To figure it out, I researched slams by starting with the Meetup page for the LoCo Poetry Slam that meets the third Saturday of the month at the LoCo Artisan Coffee House in downtown Loveland. The slam isn’t a pure slam but is an open mic where poets can slam memorized poems or read their work.

“If you use poetry as an escape, as an idea-bouncer, as a coping mechanism, whatever, please come out and join us sometime,” the writeup states.

Slams, a poetry movement that began in the 1990s, revitalized an interest in poetry as performance through spoken word poems. They are a way to bounce around ideas, start conversations and reflect on personal lives, the poet’s soul and social injustices.

Slam poems can express raw emotion and large ideas and often are presented rapid-fire in a vocal delivery style comparable to rap music.

The performances are done in a competition format, judged on a numeric scale by the audience or a selection of audience members chosen by the MC or host. The poems are scored to determine a winner, usually through multiple elimination rounds. The performances typically are limited to three minutes—the LoCo Poetry Slam limits poets to three poems of any length.

Slam poets are judged on how they perform and the content, voice and style of their poetry. Their delivery can use theatric devices, dance and movement as they recite, or they can rely solely on the words.

The audience chooses who advances to the next level and to the final round.

I participated in an official slam a few months ago and didn’t make it out of the first round. I read my poem, trying to act it out, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m more familiar with reading my poetry, letting the words and the emotion I put into them tell story through the rhythms I evoke in my way of using language. Slam will be a way to learn how to perform those words.

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