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Slam poetry makes a convert in WPB

August 12, 2009

Blair, a past team champ, gave an exhibition performance

Blair, a past team champ, gave an exhibition performance

I drank the kool-aid at the 20th National Poetry Slam in West Palm Beach last week.

More than 300 poets — 68 teams of four poets each– converged on Clematis Street for four days of competitive performance poetry. I’ll admit I was skeptical of the form myself, fearing it was, however popular, prone to over earnest over emoting of underwritten verse by young poets who would really rather be hip-hop stars.

Boy, was I wrong. The poems on display were more varied, much more sophisticated, and the performances more effective than I could have imagined.

If you love page poetry but haven’t experienced stage poetry, please do not deny yourself a moment longer. Get yourself to the nearest open-mic venue or slam contest: revelation awaits. Remember, not so long ago poets and critics were asking themselves if poetry in America was dead.

Uh, no. On the basis of what I saw last Saturday, poetry is more alive — and livelier — than at any time since Allen Ginsberg debuted “Howl” at San Francisco’s Six Gallery in 1955. Or maybe since Walt Whitman peddled the first edition of Leaves of Grass door-to-door in Brooklyn, circa 1855. And it’s everywhere.

Edmund Skellings, Florida’s poet-laureate and an unstinting prophet of technological progress, once told me that as digital media fragments the human attention span, poetry would re-emerge as our primary literary form. Skellings, an excellent page poet himself, foreshadowed the rise of performance poetry 30 years ago when he was known as “the Electric Poet” for the dramatic multi-media readings he gave all over the country.

I no longer doubt him.

“People now believe poetry can be a way of life and they can make their living as poets,” said Henry Sampson, NPS v-p, just before the finals got underway at the Palm Beach County Convention Center Saturday night.

You can find my full report on the Slam’s last day of competition, including the Finals and a dazzling exhibition performance by Blair, a past champion from Detroit, at the Palm Beach ArtsPaper.

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