Thursday, May 12, 2005

High School Poetry Slam

Today I'm posting from the library of West Jordan High School, where I'm on a break from my dayjob: Poetry Slam Judge. Huh.

The librarian worked this deal out--a bunch of English teachers had their students write poems, then the teachers (or the classes) judged the best four, and then there's a shout-off. Well, not really. While slams thrive on audience ebullience, hostility, and noise, the slam in the WJHS library is pretty polite. A teacher and I individually score the poets on oral presentation, enthusiasm, artistic expression, quality of language, preparation, and one other category, then we add up scores, compare notes, and pick two winners. (There are, like, seven rounds of this, with a final competition tomorrow afternoon.) There's applause between each poet, and one girl sitting behind me, after she heard a decently performed rant against poetry slams and poetry in general, said, "oooh, snap!" But in general it's a very civilized affair.

I think, actually, that the slam, um, scene here shows something about slams in general: the best performances--the ones with charisma, real delivery, presence, energy, verve--have been delivered by young men. The adolescent male, who I realize has no picnic during these mostly unlovely years, still has license to be large--take up room, make noise, knock some heads. The girls, on the other hand, have a much stronger prohibition against all of the above. Meaning that it would be asy to end up tomorrow with fourteen boys.

Plus, I have been confronted with the hegemony of the rhyming couplet. Three, maybe four, beats per line--like "da DA da DA da DA da DA" until . . . well, it's over by 1:30 today.

Slam? More like slump.


  1. I want to like slam poetry. I like the idea of slam poetry, but every open mike slam thing I've been to has been terrible.

    Actually, I don't like readings in general. I'll stick to the printed WORD.

  2. I have come to almost universally loathe readings--soooo pretentious, so quiet, so polite, so elite, so literary. I don't know that I've ever been to a slam. But I do know that I think of them as verbal performances rather than poetry, and think there's something to them. It's like going to a play--it's just a bunch of monologues. And some of them are cool.



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