Aw, Snap: Performance Poetry on Campus
The three minutes begin. Original words are read by their writer with a rhythm that moves the room. Instead of clapping, the sound dominating the room after the performance is the quiet rustle of snaps from the audience. This is a poetry slam.
Poetry slams are essentially poetry competitions. Instead of just the actual poem being judged, though, the whole performance is taken into account. Judges are chosen by the host or organizer and give numerical scores to each competitor.
The rules are fairly simple. Each poem must be of the poet’s own construction. All competitors are given three minutes to read their work. Going over time will cause points to be deducted from the overall score. The poets can only use themselves and their words as the performance; no props, costumes or instruments are permitted. Each judge gives a score, and the lowest and highest scores are dropped. The final score is the average of the remaining scores.
Unlike open-mic nights, poetry slams are designed for audience interaction and reaction. The judges are part of the audience, so the reaction of the audience can often play into their judgments.
University Programs, which organizes campus events, is hosting a poetry slam Nov. 7 with guest poet Derrick C. Brown. Brown is an award-winning poet who has traveled all around the world performing his poetry. This event is open to all student poets interested in competing in a slam. This event will take place in Au Bon Pain in the Union.
There will also be events next semester, but they have not yet been planned. Details can be found on the University Programs website, http://uark.edu/~univinfo/UP/, which has a calendar displaying upcoming events.
Fayetteville recently played host to the Individual World Poetry Slam, which hosted over 70 poets from all across the world competing for the title for World Poetry Champion. The Coffeehouse Committee of University Programs, which plans poetry slams and other events on campus, helped out at the event, which gave them an opportunity to see championship poets perform. These poets spoke on many different issues and themes, including sex, politics and women’s issues.
“Some (poems) were funny, some were poignant, some were absurd,” said Trista McVey, head of the University Programs Coffeehouse Committee. “Most of them stemmed from personal pain or experience with disappointment. What’s great about poetry is that it is an honest platform to explore some serious, dark issues, but mostly they were in an expressive, positive way.
This event, which was the first poetry slam attended by many committee members, allowed attendees to get the feel of a professional, extremely competitive poetry slam.
“The environment that I experienced at the (Individual World Poetry Slam) event was very encouraging,” McVey said. “The great thing about poetry slams, because the judges are part of the audience and there are no real set rules as to what constitutes as ‘good,’ is that everyone can get involved. I am generally a reserved person when it comes to audience participation, but I found myself snapping my fingers — yes, that actually happens — and cheering on the poets with everyone else.”
Campus poetry slams are relatively simple events for the committee to plan. What they mostly need is willing competitors. Student poets are encouraged to attend. These events are a great way for students to improve their writing. Students not interested in writing poetry are still welcome to participate as judges.
Attending a poetry slam is all about getting into the performance. Poetry slams are a departure from the standard evening for a college student and can introduce students to a whole new world of poetry.