Slammed Poets

In Commentary, HOME, LITERATURE by Beci Moss

They exist among you.  You may not be aware of them, but they do.  They sit next to you on the bus, queue behind you in supermarkets and walk the same streets as you every single day, their identities hidden behind the pretence of student, or teacher, or sales assistant. They look like us, act like us and talk like us, but this image of normality serves only to shield from the public the truth behind their seemingly unremarkable exterior.  Behind this facade exists an inescapable reality. They view the world in a different manner. They are hypersensitive and over-analytical. They are misunderstood, misrepresented and generally mystifying. They are poets.

Poets have adapted well to the demands of 21st century living; that is to say, they have evolved to fit in with their surroundings, hiding their true identities for fear of mockery (“you’re a what?) and only releasing their poetic output freely when seated at the back of coffee shops, their backs to the world and scribbling in a notebook which has seen better days. But what becomes of them when the sun sets, and darkness falls?  What happens to them after a hard day of social awkwardness and endless cups of strong coffee?  When you are out clubbing, chatting and generally being the sociable youths that you are, where do these poets gather?

The answer is simple. The poetry slam.

rachel rankinThink ancient Rome, but with words instead of lions and pubs instead of arenas. Imagine being placed on a stage, blinded by the glare of unforgiving lights yet feeling the expectant gaze of countless pairs of eyes upon you. Imagine knowing that you have only a few short minutes to draw in, impress, touch and release a hungry audience before they become restless and mercilessly call upon the next victim. Imagine standing amongst fellow poets, all in the same position as yourself, trembling, knowing that only one of you will survive.

Welcome, my friends, to the Poetry Slam – an evening of competitive spoken word artistry, alcohol, slick rhythms and unbridled passion, where poets of zealous performance come to shine, impress, dazzle and be judged on their words.  Only at a poetry slam could you find such good natured judgement, such competitive friendliness, and such raw and passionate insights into the lives of the performers.  There is also a lot of alcohol.  Poets like to drink – some stereotypes will never be dispelled.

“So what exactly is a poetry slam?  Is it kind of like a rap battle?”

The answer: no. The main difference between a poetry slam and a rap battle is that competitors in a poetry slam already have their poems memorised for performance. The poetry slam is an evening of competitive poetry written by the performer and split into three rounds. In normal slam circumstances there will be fifteen competitors, each split into three groups of five, and, after each poet has been heard, each poem has been judged and each fate has been sealed, the judges will send two poets from each round into the semi-final. This format will then repeat itself until only the three strongest poets remain, who will then battle it out for the coveted position of slam champion and the worthy recipient of glory, approval and alcohol (but mostly alcohol).

rachel rankin 2However, be under no illusion that the word “poetry” implies that the evening will be a low-key (read: dull) event, full of English Literature students waxing lyrical about flowers and broken hearts. The poetry slam is a spoken word bloodbath; an emotionally draining, emotionally stirring and occasionally emotionally scarring event.  Have you ever bore a tiny piece of your soul to a room of complete strangers, presenting it to be mercilessly judged, scored and graded? Have you ever watched someone bear a tiny piece of their soul to a room of complete strangers to be judged, scored and graded?  This is not merely a recital – this is an evening where passions are nurtured, emotions are stirred and people are transformed from simple spectators into kings with the power to decide the fate of a poet with a cheer, or a clap, or a snap of the fingers. This is an all-inclusive, all-encompassing spectacle with a razor sharp atmosphere and an aura of friendly competitiveness second only to none. Are you looking for an evening of excitement and entertainment? Do you derive pleasure from competition? Do you want to be blinded by the dazzling glare of poetic passion bursting forth from the lungs of these poets, and have your eyes opened to the possibility of an entirely different world? Welcome, my friends, to the poetry slam.  It is nothing like that of which you can ever imagine, and more than you could ever dream of.

So, before condemning the poetry slam to the realms of the literary elite and the academically pretentious, consider the following. They exist among you. You may not be aware of them, but they do. They sit next to you on the bus, queue behind you in supermarkets and walk the same streets as you every single day, their identities hidden behind the pretence of student, or teacher, or sales assistant. They look like us, act like us and talk like us.  They are poets, and they can alter the way you view the world with a well-placed word and a dash of passion. And, without a shadow of a doubt, as they scribble in battered notebooks at the back of coffee shops, every single one of them believes the same thing. They share the same mantra. Their motto is this:

‘Performance poetry?  Don’t slam it until you try it.’

Rachel Rankin

Rachel Rankin is a Scandinavian Studies and English Literature student at the University of Edinburgh. She’s been doing performance poetry for just over a year and has written since she was young. She’d like to live in a little wooden house on the west coast of Norway, and has dreams of becoming a writer and poet (we think she’s well on her way, don’t you?)

To read Rachel’s poetry visit her website:

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