Neil Hester

All poems © Neil Hester unless otherwritten

Location: North Carolina, United States

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Slam Sonnetry

Recently, I entered an on-campus poetry contest. The exact nature of the contest was unclear to me, so I went ahead and submitted a sonnet. Then I realized that the host of the contest was Alvin Lau, a slam poet, and the entire contest was centered around slam poetry.

Maybe I should have stayed away because of the theme, which was "Put a Smile on Your Face". From the top of my head, I can't think of any great poetry that blatantly fits a silly theme like that. But I decided to do it anyway, and entered "Sonnet for the Sky", which isn't exactly happy, but it's one of the happiest things I have.

So I entered, found out it was a slam poetry contest (after already submitting a sonnet [in a classical form, no less]), and decided to stick with it anyhow. I ended up reading a sonnet in front of a majority-slam poet crowd. I also ended up listening to a bunch of slam poetry, which was interesting, but not something I'd do again.

Here's my take on slam poetry: good slam poems have merit for the sake of entertainment, but they're not poetry, at least not in the literary sense. I prefer to think of them as performance pieces instead. Why? Because literature is defined as:

"writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays"

Key word here is "writings". Writing is, first and foremost, meant to be read, not performed. If writing doesn't have artistic merit to a reader, without any need for a great performance to give it merit, then it's not literature.

For example, one of the funniest pieces at the slam poetry contest was a piece about "whale love". The guy performing talked about different aspects of whales loving each other, focusing on the "songs" whales use to call mates. He actually made whale sounds inbetween verses. It was pretty funny material, but try reading that on paper, and it falls flat. How would that read? "Mmmmoooooaaaaaaammmmmmhhhh?" Ah, great art!

On the other hand, the more serious or romantic pieces I heard were more annoying than anything else. Extremely cliched- on paper, they would look horrible, with bad music, and even performed, I got annoyed with the strings of dead phrases.

Here are a couple of video examples of Alvin Lau (the guy I listened to), for those of you who are unfamiliar with this sort of thing:


Full Moon
- Good performances qualities- he's good at performing. I agree with the political message, too, but some of stuff he says makes me cringe, and not in the good way.

For The Breakdancers
- Again, the guy can perform. But really, half the words don't make any real sense and are just filler to keep music going and choreograph with the breakdancing. So, kind of entertaining at first, but it gets old fast.


A term I think is fine for these kinds of performances is "spoken word". That's an apt description, I suppose. Something inbetween a rap and a monologue. Anyhow, I don't particularly enjoy the stuff, but I'm okay with it; I just think that "slam poetry" is a mislabel, since the stuff isn't poetry (or at least, it's really bad poetry). Call me elitist, call me close-minded, but that's my take on it and I'm sticking by it.

On a side note, it's November... er, December. Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving ^^

Take Care,


Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

This guy is a spammer.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

Since it was slam, good stuff doesn't stand a chance. I can only imagine the terrible "love" stuff, as in, they need to read their cliches in some kind of affected vocal style because what is on paper alone does not work. I'll pass on that.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Neil said...

Yeah, they use performance to make up for a lack of quality words. For the best of them, it works to an extent, for anyone who isn't too demanding of the words. The only ones I even somewhat enjoyed were the ones aiming at humor; the love-themed ones were annoying.

And yes, I didn't stand a chance. But I still enjoyed reading something completely different in the midst of all the slam poetry.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Cioara Andrei said...

Foarte interesant subiectul postat de tine. M-am uitat pe blogul tau si imi place ce am vazut.Cu siguranta am sa il mai vizitez.
O zi buna!

12:19 PM  
Blogger Jessica Schneider said...

Ooh ya ya! Me no speak Romanian spam, no?

6:37 PM  
Blogger love, ASHii(: said...

hmmm. but are there any other ways you can express poetry (not in written form) for people instead of participating in the poetry slam?

4:46 AM  

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