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The Ramification of Poetry Slam Part 1: The History

Jimmy Santiago Baca, a leading contemporary Latino poet writing in the United States, reminds us that “Poetry’s mission is to subvert, to question, to challenge, provoke, to flail one’s vulnerability and voice into the marvelous whirlwind of poetry’s awe, flagging at the horns of the raging beast that is societies gluttonous comfort…affirm poetry at any cost”

I am going to began yet another series. (for anyone who keeps up with my blogs, I’m sure you know by now I prefer to go in depth about one subject that I am passionate about). So far my series have been A Gay Man’s Struggle, The Ballroom Scene, and The Lies History Tells. This week I am beginning my series on The Ramifications of Slam Poetry. Over the course of the next month I want to explore and share the lasting impact that this art has placed onto my life, the simple skills it has taught me, the influence it continues to make in the media, and pop culture amongst youth of all races in the United States today. The titles of my next five blogs will be, The History, Brave New Voices, A Commercialized Art,  Skills Learned, and A Growing Art Form.

Its always amazing to me when there are worlds people don’t know about—especially when I discover a new one, realize how great it is and think more people should know about it. Slam Poetry is one of these worlds. There are so many different aspects to this art form and to this world that it is really a shame that many people have never gotten a chance to experience it. So I will start by giving a brief history lesson, and then explain how powerful this art can be.

A Poetry Slam is a competition at which poets will write and perform original pieces. The performances are judged with a numerical Olympic style of scoring by judges previously selected throughout the audience. Marc Smith created what we now know as the Poetry Slam, which started inside Chicago on November of 1984, but today poetry slams take place all across the world.

I was 15 when discovered this new world of Slam. My English teacher handed me a multicolored flyer that was the ticket to what I never imagined would change my life. This Slam took place at Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio. What I felt that night was the most emotional ride of my life. I heard people all around my age perform poem about their lives. I heard Poems about abuse, neglect, stereotypes, reality, media, gender roles and more. I heard funny poems, sad poems, poems that make me think, poems that challenged my very existence, and I heard this all from young people. When I walked in the room that night, someone asked me if I wanted to add my name to the slam list. I was nervous, but agreed; I had one poem that I had memorized for Easter Sunday at my church. I performed the only poem I had ever written, title Just Stop the Blindness. Later I found out that I had just entered into what was the Cleveland citywide slam poetry competition. And my poem scored high enough to place me into the final round of the competition—which was two weeks after. Being in that room, on that night, hearing so many young people spill their very lives out onto the stage was the greatest moment of inspiration I have ever experienced. In the final round I would need three poems and if I won I would join the Cleveland team to compete in the youth international slam competition, which was in NYC back in 2006. The moment that I found out I was moving on to the finals in the Cleveland competition, I knew I had to go home and write, and I knew that from the moment on my life would never be the same.

If you have not been to a poetry slam, I encourage you to go to one. A popular phrase in the slam scene is “the points are not the point, the point is poetry.” This truth grows in my mind everyday. I now live my life through the eyes of a poet. Over the last 5 years, the impact that slam had on me would take me places I would of never imagined at 15 years old. From the Apollo Theater in New York, to performing in the streets of San Jose, I am still on a Slam poetry high and I hope I never come down.