Art News

Ten Things You Need to Know About the National Poetry Slam

Mid-performance at National Poetry Slam 2016.
Mid-performance at National Poetry Slam 2016. Adam Rubinstein

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click to enlarge The House Slam team with its championship trophy in 2015. - ADAM RUBINSTEIN
The House Slam team with its championship trophy in 2015.
Adam Rubinstein
The defending champs are back.
Given the competitive selection of teams, it's rare for the same five poets to compete together multiple times. But last year's slam champions, Baltimore's Team Slammageddon, is the exception, and it's ready to defend its throne.

click to enlarge The view from the stage during the 2016 competition. - ADAM RUBINSTEIN
The view from the stage during the 2016 competition.
Adam Rubinstein
Audience, warm up your vocal chords.
"Come ready to participate," instructs Smith, because slam is a community-oriented art. Heckling is a faux pas, but a "grunt-moan" if a line resonates shows support. There are also call-and-response traditions that might catch a newcomer off-guard. (When Slam Nuba members say the team's name, don't be alarmed if the audience cheers, "We cut heads!") If you disagree with a judge's evaluation of a team, booing is permitted.

click to enlarge The poem she's performing must be three minutes or under. - ADAM RUBINSTEIN
The poem she's performing must be three minutes or under.
Adam Rubinstein
There are on-stage rules, too.
Each team has three minutes per round. That's it. Musical accompaniment, props and nudity are prohibited.

click to enlarge Slam poetry gets passionate at the 2016 National Poetry Slam. - ADAM RUBINSTEIN
Slam poetry gets passionate at the 2016 National Poetry Slam.
Adam Rubinstein
You can get involved (it's free!).
According to organizer Smith, this year's event includes "more programming than any National Poetry Slam ever has," from affinity group open mics (for those who identify as disabled or indigenous, for instance) to sessions on how to make money as a touring poet. Of course, a variety of writing workshops are sprinkled in, too, for those looking to hone their craft.

Its organizers love poetry, and you should, too.
If these words don't inspire you, what will? In Smith's words, "I love poetry because it can say the unsayable thing. It's specific and intentional and careful language. And I believe that words are really, really powerful. It's the most potent form of language that we have." Adds Brooks: "There's something invigorating, encouraging, refreshing about not only speaking your own truth, but hearing those from others and seeing how much freedom they get from it.... Poetry in its innate form is life-saving, in my opinion."

The National Poetry Slam runs through August 11 at various venues around Denver. For a full schedule and tickets, visit the National Poetry Slam online. The finals, August 12 at 7 p.m. at the Paramount Theater, will be hosted by SlamNuba co-founder Ken Arkind and will feature performances from Denver poets Dominique Christina and Andrea Gibson.
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Lila Thulin recently graduated from Stanford University, where she earned a Human Biology degree with a minor in Creative Writing (she also learned to bike no-handed). She’s an aficionado of libraries, bagels and art in all forms; she covers the latter as a Westword intern.
Contact: Lila Thulin