northampton poetry

I’ve been slamming since 1997, have done so across the country. Each venue has its own take on running a slam, and here’s an introduction to our take. If you don’t already know, a slam is a judged poetry competition, ideally held at a bar, in which people who do not have PhDs in poetry are encouraged to “judge” poetry. If poetry in it’s purest form is supposed to make you feel something, then all of us are equally qualified to hear poetry, so long as we are qualified to feel.

We have scorecards, we ask random members of the audience to judge (you can always refuse, if you don’t wish to judge). The judging format is from one to ten, ten being the best. The idea is that poetry is something that you do not need to have an extensive traditional education in order to understand and respond. The idea, also, is that a poet’s work should be passionate, charismatic, or fascinating enough to interest anyone walking in from off the street, so long as they are willing to listen.

The Tuesday reading in general is a place to carry on the oral tradition, a place to gather and be heard, a place to do something, rather than be in front of a TV somewhere. And it is hard to carry on the oral tradition if you are not being interesting. A slam gives a poet an opportunity to practice and hone their work, and is an excuse for the poet to bring their best, and can be a format in which immediate, visceral feedback is provided. Hopefully, once all is said and done, the competition element is taken lightly. The scoring format is simply a way to frame an evening in which each poet is bringing their best work. And after they do so, we support and cheer their efforts.

In the discussion of academic vs. spoken word poetry (or whatever you want to call it), there are as many different takes as there are poets. I guess you would call our Tuesday venue a spoken word venue, but all types of poetry are most welcome, are completely valid, and elements of all types of poetry can be found at our reading—from our open mic reading, to our features, and extending to our slam. For example, Dylan Thomas makes a pretty great spoken word poet, if you ask me. As does Maya Angelou, Whitman, or Shakespeare. There are chapters of "Moby Dick" that could wins slams. All it takes is an open mind.

A slam is also simply a great way to read multiple poems in one evening, to garner attention, to win yourself some money, and even get a feature. If you think you are not good enough to slam, or if you think you are too good to slam, I would ask you to reconsider. And if you’re not sure what to make of all this, I sincerely invite you to come join us on a Tuesday, as a spectator or a reader, and see what we’re all about—sharing what’s in our hearts. --Craig Nelson

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