Welcome to the Slam

Downtown St. Paul gets invaded by barking Slam poets for an entire week.

The 2010 St. Paul Slammers: (Left to Right) Sam Cook, Kyle (Guante) Myhre, Sierra DeMulder, Khary (6 is 9) Jackson, Shane Hawley, Matthew Rucker

photo courtesy Nathan Levine

The 2010 St. Paul Slammers: (Left to Right) Sam Cook, Kyle (Guante) Myhre, Sierra DeMulder, Khary (6 is 9) Jackson, Shane Hawley, Matthew Rucker

by Mark Brenden

National Poetry Slam 2010 When: August 3-7 Where: Various venues in downtown St. Paul A little bit Allen Ginsberg , a little bit Tupac , a tad Ric Flair and a whole lot of freshness âÄî poetry Slams are the best of all possible worlds, and theyâÄôre putting the breath back into an art form on its last legs. St. Paul plays host to the National Poetry Slam (NPS), the worldâÄôs largest annual poetry Slam event. Up to 84 teams will participate, that number slowly dwindling throughout the week to 20, to four and eventually to one champion. In various venues across downtown St. Paul, âÄúbout hoppersâÄù can filter in and out of shelters, and immediately judge poets with boos and hoorahs and hee-haws. “[Slam Poetry] is incredibly unique in that it combines high art and high culture with sports and entertainment,” said Matthew Rucker, NPS 2010 host city coordinator. “You’re seeing a show, you’re seeing competition and you’re also seeing some of the most profound art that you’ve ever heard.” The art of Slam poetry harkens back to the mid-1980s, wherein poetic folks were growing tired of high-browed academia putting their art form on a pedestal. In essence, Slam is nearer to the roots of poetry, to the oral traditions of Homer. “The whole point of Slam was to give poetry back to the people,âÄù Rucker said. âÄúTo take it away from academia, who turned it into a written art form, because then only the most educated could participate in it. We brought it back to its original position, which has been going on since the dawn of language.” Whether it be a newfound sense of emotion via the Great Recession or just sheer randomness, the art form in which people pour out their passion loudly and rhythmically has been making a surge as of late. Local hip-hop power players like Dessa Darling and Sage Francis used the art as a gateway drug to success. Rucker reckons it stems from an educational awakening. “The more recent surge I think has come from schools that were once reticent to include Slam poetry in their curriculum have started to warm up to it,âÄù Rucker said. âÄúKids can learn about poetry through slam poetry as opposed to reading Keats or Longfellow , which a lot of kids think is dull.” In the Age of the Internet and adderall-sized attention spans, many have pronounced the art of poetry as good as dead. But with the immediate thrill of Slam poetry, the wheezing literary form may be receiving a much-needed adrenaline shot. “I don’t think poetry will ever die, because anything of significant quality will always have legs, will always live forever,âÄù Rucker said. âÄúYou’ll never be able to not find a book of Edgar Allen Poe poems or Robert Frost poems on a bookshelf.âÄù