Thursday, April 25, 2013

Academic poetry, versus slam poetry, versus underground poetry

Azriel, over at the Writing Knights roundtable blog, comments on the difference in feel between what he calls "academic" poetry, versus "slam" poetry, versus a third category, "underground" poetry-- and then is challenged to define what he means by the categories.

"What are "slam," "academic," and "underground" are you defining these terms? I'm going to make the argument that there are some craft techniques that are universal to all of these styles of poetry, or make all of these styles of poetry stronger or weaker through their use or lack thereof."

Ah, I love categorizing things. It's a game you can just keep on playing.

Of these, slam poetry is the easiest one to nail down-- it's the poetry you get in a poetry slam.  A slam poem isn't really about the poem in itself-- it's all about the performance.  And, more to the point: a slam poem has to get its reaction immediately. It's not one where, hours later, you wake up in the middle of the night realizing you can't stop thinking about that one image, or working through some train of thought the poem had kicked off.  A slam poem kicks you in the gut fast.

"Academic" poems (I think he means what I would call "page" poems-- poems that are meant to be read on the page, not necessarily performed), can work slow.  They can layer on imagery, can take multiple readings.  Many page poems, of course, read very well-- the rhythm and poetry of language can work in readings as well as on the page.

"Underground" poems, I guess, are the ones that don't fit either category-- the true underground poems are edgy, want to make you think or react or feel, want to break rules just for the sake of getting a rise. 

Which, I suppose is as good a segue as any to mention that the Lake Effect poetry team, Cleveland's own slam performers, will be doing their Lake Effect Poetry 2013 GRAND SLAM, the final competition to see who will comprise Cleveland's National Poetry Slam team this year, on Saturday, May 11th at 7:00 PM at 4700 Prospect Ave, Cleveland, OH 44103. There will be a $5 entry fee at the door to attend the Grand Slam. Half of the money collected at the door will go towards getting our team to NPS, the other half will go to the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland.

You want to see slam-- here's the place to find it!

Poets who will be competing in the GRAND SLAM are:
AKeemjamall Rollins
Eris Zion Venia
Caira Lee
Azriel Johnson
Skylark Bruce
Arianna Cheree
Christine Howey
Joshua Gage


Vertigo Xavier said...

I would agree that we have three "style cliques" of poetry here in the NEO, but I would label two of them differently.

Academics is the right label for the first group. Academics tend to be more structured in the construction of poems, rigidly adhering to classic forms of writing, and some of whom tend to look down on "street" poets.

Then there's the two groups of "street" poets. While some have described these groups as having a racial divide, that isn't really the case. It is a stylistic divide based on influences. Those I call the "beat street" poets are probably what Azriel is calling "underground poets." They are inspired by the beat generation, Ginsberg, etc. Most of these poets here in Cleveland worship at the altar of d.a. levy.

Then we have the other "street" poetry scene. Az is probably calling this the "slam scene," though most of these poets do not compete in slams. (Slam is competition. Our slams, when properly promoted, draw a variety of poets and styles.) I've never been sure exactly what to call this group. My instinct has been to call this the "urban street" poetry scene, but all too often "urban" gets interpreted along racial lines when this is absolutely not the case. The poetry found here tends to be more lyrical, taking inspiration from both jazz and hip-hop/rap artists.

Now, if you break it down, yes, the Beat Poets were influenced by jazz musicians, and yes, the leading talents in hip-hop and rap (note I said talents not performers, as this statement is not based on record sales) often cite the Beat Poets as some of their own inspirations, so this all gets meshed together.

What Cleveland is wonderful for is the diversity and welcome nature of our poetry scene. Many of our poets fit into more than one of these three groups. Even most of our Academics bridge the gap with one or the other of our street scenes. It doesn't matter which group of poets your work fits in with, you can go to any show and be welcomed without even a bat of the eye. Even the very few Academics who are snobbish toward other poets fail to spread that thought to their students.

When I first started doing live events, it was one of my goals to put on shows that would draw poets from multiple style cliques. For the most part, the shows I've produced have been successful at that. Other shows have continued those efforts, and I can now see promoters all over the NEO making an effort to break down the walls between the cliques. When I've spoken to poets who have traveled here from other cities, they are often impressed by this.

Writing Knights Press said...

I'm glad my post was able to inspire part of an entry on clevelandpoetics.

Now if only I could get Writing Knights on the list of "SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL READING SERIES" :) ( by the way).

As for the styles of poetry, yes, there are the SLAM competitions which can bring in any sort of poetry without limits, but there is also a SLAM style which can also be found outside of the competition (which is why I didn't mention the competitions in my "definitions").

This is really why I am not a fan of definitions in general. There might be connoisseurs who appreciate the subtle nuances of each style, but I poet (and publish) like I cook. I find the things I like and I put them together. I find new things and I stir them into the mix.

Also, it's Azriel. Azrael is my brother, we often get mistaken for one another, but he's the pretty one and I'm the smart one. :)

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

"...Also, it's Azriel...."

Oops. Spelling is now corrected.

Geoffrey A. Landis said...

"Now if only I could get Writing Knights on the list of "SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL READING SERIES" :) ( by the way)."

That page doesn't seem to go to a reading series-- is there a page to link to with upcoming or ongoing events?


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau