When you see that word written, I bet the last thing you probably think about is poetry…But, put the two words together and you’ve got a curious can of opened worms.
So, what is a poetry slam? Up until a few years ago, I myself was ignorant to its existence. But now that I think about the words Poetry Slam, the reference is very reminiscent of the term “getting slammed” in battle, like a rap battle for example. Are you getting an idea for its meaning, or are you still finding it a little hard to picture?
Imagine this if you will…someone approaches an empty stage, but with a microphone. For three minutes, this odd storyteller takes you on a pictorial journey of words that is so fantastic you’ll wanna snap your fingers and shout “Uh-Huh!” at the top of your lungs. Imagine also that these outbursts of behaviour are encouraged – in fact expected- from you, the audience. Now imagine somewhere in that audience with you are unsuspecting patrons who will ultimately decide their fate by scoring these poets on the content delivery and the response generated from the audience. Now imagine eleven or so more odd storytellers all daring their amazing points of view, in hopes that their points get them through to the next round.
That’s right – it’s a poetry competition, yes…but it can and has become so much more…
But wait. Let’s back up just a bit. Where did it all begin, this slam business…
Well, most people agree, it all began at a little place called the “Get Me High” in Chicago sometime in the mid-eighties. Its purpose: to pull away from the boring page-reading of poetry that felt like sitting through an insurance seminar, and create a sort of game where the weekly prize was a free drink or a few bucks cash.
This new concept caught on to pandemic proportions and ultimately created a culture all its own. The growth of its popularity was exponential. A national competition naturally followed the demand for the poetry community. Only three teams attended the first National US Slam in 1990, whereas in 2010 there were over eighty teams with a handful representing from around the world!
So, that’s the historical foundation of slam, but what about little ol’ NZ. When were we exposed to the nature of the slam beast?
I have it on pretty good authority that it blew into Wellington first with a man from Melbourne by the name of Michael Rudd. Sometime in 2000 he gave it a kick-start at the “Temple Bar” and it has slowly grown in awareness and participation since then.
So, on whose authority do I have this information that seems so hard to come by in this modern age of technology?
In 2011 Michael Rudd and I began the first National Slam here in New Zealand in the hopes that it would one day help to get our NZ poets to an international slam on a regular basis.
We began with three cities: Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Each city held their own preliminary heats to establish representatives to compete in Wellington at the National Final. Each city sent four reps, and the winning poets travelled to Australia for the first ever Trans-Tasman Slam.
In 2013, fourteen representatives from seven regions across the country competed in Wellington for the National title! The growth is truly a dream come true for a co-founder to experience in an organization.