Poetry Slam: The New Rock Show?


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!

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2 Responses to Poetry Slam: The New Rock Show?

  1. Vince - I'm just a fan... says:

    Dangz! I missed out on your first APS experience! From the looks of it, it seems you had a good time. The realization that there can be so many poetry lovers in one spot does baffle the mind. But don’t be too impressed with the number of fans, it was the semi-finals after all. I’m pretty sure you got to see some of the top performers in the Austin slam scene. By top performers, I mean those who put in the time to perform their words night after night and become local “rock stars” in their own right. The fans know who these guys and gals are so they’ll come out to see them all at once. Regular nights, the number is smaller, but not by too terribly much. hahaha!

    But to answer your questions. And this is strictly based on my own thoughts and experience. To bring people into the literary scene with just as much excitement as slams and live music, you simply start sharing what you think is worth sharing. It doesn’t have to be your own work. As long as it is a piece you feel will help push your cause, then do it. Eventually, people will see it and hopefully love what you are sharing.

    Even the APS crew started out small. I remember my first slam experience didn’t have nearly the number of fans it does today. Those were the days of Mike Henry, former slam master. He helped lay the foundation for the growth of slam poetry here in Austin. The audience maybe had 40 people total. That’s still a big number, but it grew from word of mouth. It eventually became what it is now. Now Danny Strack is the new slam master, and he is doing his part to expand the slam scene into the next generation. He even has slam/writing workshops (I believe Cupcake holds them). He definitely makes use of social media too. Nothing great happens overnight.

    If your goal is to hold the biggest, badass non-slam literary event…give it time. Keep holding events though. Over time, it will spread through word of mouth. And before you know it, you’ll have about 100 people in your backyard, with your neighbors complaining about the cheering.

    As for where are all the poetry lovers hiding, most don’t know where to go for poetry events, some folks don’t know that they love poetry, and some are just secret poets hoping to find that one group of folks who they can relate to but haven’t found them yet…at least that’s my opinion.

  2. Pingback: The Worst Advice I Never Gave You | We Put Words On Paper

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