The word doesn’t usually inspire visions of crowded bars, microphones and especially cheering, but that’s exactly what a few WepWoppers found last Tuesday night at the Austin Art Authority. As you can see, we’ve been busy visiting the local sponsored poetry and literary events around town… refer back to Zakk’s post for more details!
The Austin Poetry Slam hosted its semi-finals to the biggest crowd of poetry lovers that I have ever seen. Standing room only! The MCs treated the event like it was a rock show by encouraging the audience to cheer, yell into the mic and create an atmosphere of high energy and excitement. They, in turn, responded with enthusiasm and encouragement. As a poet, it was thrilling to see such an event. I never realized that the Austin poetry scene was so prominent.
But then it hit me: is the scene only that big because the Slam was essentially treated like a rock show?
Now, I love live music, and I love my city that fully supports it, but at heart, I’m a poet, so I can’t help but wonder: what fosters such enthusiasm? Maybe I’m not showing enough love for my own craft, but I know that poetry, in general, gauges a small audience. But maybe if treated like a rock or rap show, poetry can receive its fair share of attention.
Slam poetry is a different breed of poetry altogether. The style is quick, pieces need to be under three minutes or points are docked. Poets accompany the words with hand gestures and exaggerated movements as to engage the audience and accentuate parts of the poem. Themes vary, but the best crafted poems had to do with social issues and above all, the reasons for writing poetry itself. The majority of performers spoke of poetry and joining together in a community as writers.
And it appeared, from a newcomers perspective, that everyone knew each other. The audience called out the performer’s names in encouragement. Every one said hello and talked to each other, as if they were all a big happy poetry spouting family! So maybe that’s where the enthusiasm and energy comes from!?
Clearly, this is a question that the WepWoppers have been grappling with for the past couple of weeks. How do you engage the audience (or find it) when it’s poetry being performed and not live music? Do we have to add instruments, a DJ, and contest to make it worth the audience’s while?
But perhaps my biggest questions are:
What do you do if, like me, you don’t write slam poetry or don’t feel the need to perform it? How do you get people involved in the literary scene with as much excitement that they give live music and slam poetry?
And above all: Where are all the poetry lovers hiding?
So let me know what you think!