Slam poetry. Spoken word. If these terms aren’t familiar to you, let me break it down. Slam poetry emerged as an art form in Chicago in the 1980s, however, poetry has been performed aloud for centuries. Modern-day slam poems are written for the purpose of being performed out loud. In a slam, poets perform their work for an audience and a panel of judges who give scores from 0-10 (10 being highest). Slams vary slightly from place to place, so I’m going to focus on the slam community in Salt Lake City because I am, in no way, qualified to address it on a national or global scale.
I’ve been attending poetry slams in Salt Lake City since my freshman year when a writing teacher introduced me to the craft. I left every slam saying, “Next time, I’m finally going to try it.” I said that for two years before actually following through. I’ve written poetry for years but had never shared it with anyone; I’d never even read it aloud to myself. But for some reason, the SLC poetry community made me feel so comfortable and supported that I got up in front of a cafe full of strangers and opened my heart into the mic.
There are three rounds in a slam, where each poem increases in length by one minute each round. Five random people are selected from the audience to be the judges (AKA giving totally arbitrary and subjective scores to people they don’t know). Depending on the number of people competing, some poets are eliminated each round until the scores in the final round decide the winner and runners-up.
Normally, one is competing for bragging rights and maybe a confidence boost. But the night I competed was different. I decided to compete for the first time in the Women of the World Poetry Slam Qualifier and I had no clue what I was getting into. At the time I decided to compete, I had pages and pages of fragmented poems and lines, but not a single polished piece. I spent the few hours before the slam finalizing and attempting to memorize my work.
When I arrived at Watchtower Cafe, where each monthly Sugar Slam is held, I realized how in over my head I really was. It was the biggest turnout I’d ever seen and there were so many seasoned poets competing that I’d looked up to for the past two years. I stood my ground and signed up to compete (although with much lower expectations than I’d started with). I hyperventilated through the open mic and the incredible feature poet, Ashley Finley and then it was finally time for the competition.
Watching the poets before me drove home the fact that this was the perfect moment for me to finally be trying out the mic: a slam dedicated to giving female-identifying people a voice. I can’t think of a more supportive atmosphere to take this massive leap in my life. When it was my turn to perform my first poem, Ode to the Women’s Magazine, I walked to the front of the room, shaking beyond belief but grinning at the calls of encouragement from all over the room (I tried not to look like a total newbie but I think it showed). As soon as I started speaking, all the anxiety disappeared. I got laughs and snaps and so much support, I thought I was going to burst.
The next two rounds flew by and I still can’t believe I made it to all three rounds alongside women in the community that I’ve admired for so long. My first two poems were very much on the sarcastic side but my final piece was more emotional. However, I have never felt so much love pouring from an audience.
To be surrounded by people who can relate to what you’re doing and what you’re going through is such a special thing. Even if you have no interest in performing, I can’t recommend being a part of the SLC poetry community enough. You will hear incredible stories, mind-blowing artwork and wordplay, and you will learn so many things about yourself in the process.