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A glimpse of a literary excursion in Lower East Manhattan.
“Poetry is not for the faint of eardrums.” This is a mantra to be learned among several poetry venues in downtown Manhattan. But what separates these readings from the rest is that they offer a competitive circuit, known as the poetry slam.
An open poetry slam is a competition in which anyone who wishes to compete may sign up, as long as they have as many original poems (which do not exceed the three-minute time limit) as there are rounds. Before the show begins, the host selects five random judges, who are unaffiliated with the poets, and gives them score cards numbered zero to ten. The host cordially advises the judges to be as fair in their judgment as they can and to be consistent in their own criteria for scoring. After each poem, the judges hold up their scorecards, the highest and lowest scores are deducted, and the final result is what the poet earned. At the end of the night, the poet who scores the most points wins the slam.
The concept of putting numbers to art is certainly ridiculous. What constitutes quality in art? This question has been raised since the inception of the poetry slam in the 1980s. The reason people come to see slams, for the first time or the thousandth time, is to see poets – these humans, with writings they carefully crafted, take the stage and be. The atmosphere is not so much a competitive battleground as it is a haven for people to unleash creativity through their writing and emotions through their performance. The stage is a mystically vulnerable place – a vehicle through which the performer leads the audience as deeply within his or her self as far as he or she is willing.
The effectiveness of the writer’s ability to engross the audience into the language of the poem is usually reflected in the scores; the competitive aspect of the slam helps to improve the writing and performance of the poets. The humility of the poetry slam community in New York is of great comfort. The poets do not shy away from admitting how they were touched by what they heard. Every host encourages crowd reaction to boost the confidence of the performer, as confidence is always a helpful tool when on stage. As an audience member, you must never wait until the end of a poem if you feel the urge to clap. Do not withhold your laughter, and do not be afraid to cry.
The poetry slam community is ever encouraging of new voices to broaden the scene and unleash their precious words on stage. In nearly every poetry slam there is an open mic before the competition without judges. Just about every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the week has an open slam. Here are the most popular venues in which they take place:
Located in one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods of Manhattan, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe is very much a coliseum of vivacious performers in addition to the charismatic Mahogany Browne leading the night. On Wednesdays, it is not unusual to see a waiting line stretching to the corner of East 3rd and Avenue C filled with people eager to witness live poetry. Be ready for a ruckus of a fun time.
Bar 13 is the home of the Louderarts Poetry Slam every Monday. Touted as the more academically refined venue, Louderarts loves to innovate their poetry slams by occasionally hosting “theme slams,” allowing only poets who can read poems that demonstrate a theme such as science, prose, humor, form poetry, etc. The venue itself boasts an elegant, modern style, with its cubed leather chairs, mirrored ceiling, and excellent DJing.
The Urbana Poetry Slam is currently held Tuesdays at Bar 82. The performance space has a quirky and avant-garde ambiance to attract artists of all sorts. The Urbana Poetry Slam often showcases a smooth blend of poetry styles, from social commentary to humor, to down-right “what am I witnessing?” Regardless, be ready for the unexpected to take hold and guide you to an unforgettable experience.
Ingamar Dion Ramirez
For more information on local poetry slams, visit:
Catch a sneak peek of a New York poet in action!