Slam poetry has nothing to do with Shakespeare or Michael Jordan. Poetry slams began in Chicago in the ’80s in a small cafe with an open mic night. Marc Smith, also known as Slam Papi, is credited with creating this unique type of poetry.
Since their humble inception, slams have spread across the United States to include more than 80 certified teams and a National Poetry Slam event. Slam poetry now takes place all over the world.
This genre isn’t poetry as your English teacher taught it. Poetry slams are a performance and a competition.
The style of slam poetry lands somewhere between hip-hop vocals and a theatrical monologue. Although the emotion and focus of the poems can have a broad range, the poems are typically bitter and full of frustration.
The movement came out of a culture of poets who were sick of critics controlling what they think the audience considers to be legitimate and well done.
The structure of the slams is based around this idea. The audience responds directly to the performers with boos, cheers and claps, and the judges are chosen by the MC from the audience at random. They each give scores between 0 and 10, and only the poets with the highest scores advance to the next round.
Despite the big city ethos of poetry slams, the competitions have been taking place in Orange City for more than 7 years, according to Northwestern graduate Steve Mahr.
“(NW graduates) Cody and Jen Shafer started hosting slams here around 2005,”Mahr said.
Mahr now coordinates and promotes poetry slams with a Facebook page, “Orange City Poetry Slam.”
“I do all the planning and logistical side of it all, but I think of it as a communal effort,” Mahr said. “I like to empower people to take ownership of this with me.”
The slams happen once a month and usually take place at The Old Factory Coffee Shop.
“Generally, poetry slams are as wild as they want to get.” Mahr said. “We don’t censor the poets, so we host the events off-campus out of respect for those who may be offended by the language.”
Although anyone is invited to attend , Mahr said people connected to NW usually make up most of the slam’s audiences.
All are is welcome to try their hand at slamming, but many people are nervous about making personal things public in their poems.
“Orange City is the most welcoming, nice slam crowd you can imagine,” Mahr said. “The more you do it, the better you will become. When I first started, I got mocked. Then I started listening more and creating my own style.”
The next Orange City Poetry Slam will take place at 7 p.m. on Oct. 20 at The Old Factory Coffee Shop.