I started doing competitive slam poetry at the age of 14. I didn’t have any actual poetry background, as teachers in school just told us to write poetry without explaining anything about craft or what makes a poem effective. I learned through watching others slam that all it took was a compelling subject (usually with some controversial aspect involved), vivid imagery, and some passion to weave together a piece. Add the “poet stance” (always rocking forward to your tiptoes), a cadence that could be identified as your own, and some deliberately placed dramatic choreography, and people were telling me that I was a promising poet. I won some local competitions, slammed in a regional bout where I beat people from big city teams like Baltimore and D.C, and found myself part of Delaware’s 6-person team in the quarterfinal rounds at Brave New Voices 2011, performing in venues all over Oakland and San Francisco and included in an HBO documentary. While the slam poetry scene diminished in my area as I finished up the rest of high school, one of my few goals for college was to compete (and make a splash) at CUPSI.
Fast-forward to today, and I haven’t performed in 6 months and haven’t written a slam piece I’m actually proud of in over a year. I realized that I was too obsessed with “being good” and winning. I started writing certain things into my poetry just because I knew they would get points (talk about domestic or sexual abuse, use ribcages, hang yourself from a noose, get emotional on stage) instead of writing poetry for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love acting, but poets are supposed to reveal their true selves, coaches always told me to be vulnerable on stage. I realized that I was only pretending to do these things, shying away from topics that actually affected me in the name of securing 10s and high placements. I decided to take a break from slam to reevaluate why I was actually writing. When I took creative writing here at Geneseo and entered the world of poetry in an academic setting, I started looking at everything differently. At first it was really hard for me to make the transition back to page poetry from slam. In slam, as long as what you’re doing evokes feeling, nobody cares where your line (or rhythm/cadence) breaks are or whether you rely on abstractions. Seeing page poetry from an academic setting has just made me that much more critical of slam. I want to return to the world of slam competitions, I met some of the most intelligent, diverse, and accepting people through slam communities, but sometimes I feel like I’m so critical and jaded at this point, that I don’t know if I ever can return to that community that grew me.
Does anyone else have trouble taking slam seriously after focusing on the nuances of page poetry? Any advice for reconciling the two?