Are you ready to get slammed?
Above photo: “Boston Poetry Slam Team 1”: (l-r) Jade Sylvan, Ed Wilkinson, Sean Patrick Mulroy, Nora Meiners, Omoizele “Oz” Okoawo.
Reading stanzas just can’t compare with actually hearing a poem being performed. As former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins put it, “To hear a poem is to experience its momentary escape from the prison cell of the page … and speak.” But when poetry combines with a little healthy competition, it becomes a full-bodied, high-energy event. Hell, add elements of hip-hop, storytelling, and stand-up comedy, and you’ve almost covered all the facets that come together to make up the annual National Poetry Slam, held in Boston this year.
“One of the things that’s different about slam is how directly it breaks the fourth wall,”
said Simone Beaubien, host city director of this year’s national slam. “Even though it uses all the tricks of theater. Like music, it’s self directed and like sports, it offers a storyline.”
For those not familiar, competitive performance poetry may seem like a triad of opposites. But Beaubien said amongst a growing poetry slam scene in Boston she finds herself explaining slam less and less. Poetry slam nights at the Lizard Lounge sell out weekly and the last time Boston hosted the nationals two years ago, lines were out the door.
“This year,” Beaubien said, “we want to get those lines inside.”
The slam itself spans from Tuesday, August 13th to Saturday, August 17th, but the weeklong poetry celebration starts with a gala opening show on Monday the 12th at the Cambridge YMCA. Seventy-two teams from all over the United States and Canada will compete in the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday preliminaries, but only twenty teams will make it to Friday’s semi-finals. Then, four teams advance to the glory that is the finals at the Berklee Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
During that week, various poetry workshops and readings are open to the public.
Late-night “rowdy” poetry events, as Beaubien described them, include an erotic poetry reading on Wednesday night and an Encyclopedia Show on Thursday, where performers use any medium to dork out over one topic. This year’s topic is the “visible spectrum of light.”
Boston’s slam team was selected in March during a three-night poetry slam series at the Cantab Lounge. One team member, Nora Meiners, had only started writing poetry two years ago.
She went to the National Poetry Slam for the first time in 2011, and the experience absolutely floored her.
“I had been seeing really cool poets in Boston,” she said. “But when I saw that, times a thousand, with so many voices from all over the country and different styles that I had never heard, it just made me feel like if I can do this I would be part of this really exciting movement.”
Although it is a competition, Meiners said there’s no locker-room trash talk, although she admits with a smile that getting to the finals is a dream of hers.
“I’m not out there wishing anyone not to win, but I really want to win,” she said.
“Overall in the entire slam community, it’s about getting poetry elevated to this thing where more people are listening.”
Whether you’re a writer, a listener or just a general lover of all things human, get ready for it. Boston’s about to get slammed with something special.
NATIONAL POETRY SLAM
TUESDAY 8.13.13.-SAT 8.17.13