In 2017, Denver will become one of the hubs for the National Poetry Slam, the biggest slam event of its kind in the country and certainly the largest for Colorado. This major throwdown of America's best slam poets is coming to the Mile High City in part because of one of the local creative community's most prominent and active poets, Suzi Q. Smith.
While she's been hard at work on many projects, Smith says she's remained relatively quiet about her appointment last year as executive director for Poetry Slam Inc., the organization that oversees and certifies all of the slams in North America, running the National Poetry Slam, the Women of the World Poetry Slam and the Individual World Poetry Slam. As the new head of Poetry Slam Inc., Smith saw a need for some stability in these big tournaments, which in the past have moved to different cities each year.
"I think it's a huge gamble and a lot of work for a city and its poets," says Smith of the locations chosen to host the six-day-long National Poetry Slam. "Oftentimes it is being organized by volunteer poets who are not planners, necessarily. The first time you host the National Poetry Slam is often one of the hardest years possible for the city — so it was like we are giving every city the hardest possible experience with each year, and that didn't seem smart to me."
Smith proposed having four major cities host the big event every five years, leaving one year in the rotation for a new city to be added. The slam masters agreed and voted on a handful of spots across the country that could potentially be anchors for the poetry event. Denver was the second most popular choice next to Chicago. Oakland and Atlanta were the other two cities brought into the fold. Smith says it was imperative to have a city in each region of the country represented, making it easier for teams to travel to the anchor cities while highlighting the geographical diversity that makes up the slam community. As it stands, Oakland, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago and one more city will each host one gathering every five years; Denver's on track for 2017, 2022, 2027 and so on.
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Another reason for picking the anchor cities was to give the national network of creators the time to build longterm relationships with local arts councils as well as to build audiences. "With the national slam, we not only have local audiences, but a lot of people who come from other places as fans. Having these set cities will help people plan how to make (the National Poetry Slam) a destination or vacation — if they can know where it is ahead of time, it is easier to plan and budget," says Smith.
Since there are plenty of smaller tournaments happening year-round that other cities can host, Smith says no one will be left out: "It gives us a chance to go to some smaller cities — like, we've been to Spokane, Washington, and we're going to Flagstaff, Arizona, next year. That way these places have the opportunity to build something more manageable. The National Poetry Slam is five times larger than those smaller festivals and really requires cities that have a lot of things in place that can allow for it."
You can catch a taste of what Denver's own vibrant slam poetry community is all about each and every Sunday night at the Mercury Cafe, at the weekly Denver Mercury Slam. This Sunday, September 27, the open mike and competition features a special appearance by Smith herself. Sign-up for the open mike begins at 7:30 p.m. and is open to anyone interested in participating; performances begin at 8. There is a $5 suggested donation at the door.