Ten Reasons to Visit Your Local Poetry Slam

“Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

from A Defence of Poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Poetry’s protean form encompasses many arts in one — it can be spoken, written, and sung, and artists even full-on perform their poems during slams. In this way, poetry as an art form is quite capable — it often transcends normal modes of communication to really grasp and hold an audience.

Poetry showcases all things human, and the best place to experience poetry locally is at the nearest slam. Poetry slams began in Chicago in the ’80s, mainly because poets wanted to inject life back into poetry readings, which had become rather pompous and, well, boring. Local slams like the recent Hear, Here! slam in Colorado Springs are becoming popular destinations for artists of all kinds. From firespinners to revolutionaries to parents, everyone has a little poet inside, and everyone needs to let that part out and speak every now and again. The list that follows pinpoints ten real reasons why we should all visit the local slam.

1. Your community is listening: you will be heard

At Hear, Here!, my local slam/poetry club, the poets create family. The poetry community comes together for slams and open mics. Whether the new girl shares, shaking about depression depths she’s just defining, or if the more seasoned poet points out how dewdrops formed patterns into images illustrating the interconnected absurdity of existence, all poets are received and heard for what they are. They are treated as human and deserving of being heard.

2. You support your local arts scene

Many can support their local artists by attending and donating to slams and slam production teams. In addition to granting a bonus in “hipness” to aspiring hipsters, this can also help out some real, struggling local talent. Many local poetry clubs send artists to compete nationally, and the willing and dedicated can support local projects, such as Hear, Here! in Colorado Springs and Slam Nuba in Denver, as they aspire to make it on the national stage.

3. You practice no-apologies democracy

Poetry slams are, by definition, democratic, and though some might argue that the nature of the open mic is more anarchic than democratic, the local slam is a microcosmic representation of each of our communities. Regardless of their labels in everyday life, the community members join together to vote — and the audience can sway scores by their noises of approval/disapproval. This can be a great venue to help kids understand democracy and political theory.

4. You are a witness to public confession

Sometimes, people get set free at poetry slams or open mics. Most often, those who attend regularly say it’s like getting “soul food,” and they may not be far off. Public confession and sharing serve to bind people together into better-relating social groups, and this is amplified at poetry slams and well-led open mics. An atmosphere of sharing and acceptance binds the audience and slam poets together through the evening. Audience members might experience pleasure, pain, brain teases, word twisters, and plain word-wrangling, and all is done with a simple plan in mind — allow everyone to empathize and sympathize with the speakers.

5. You get the chance to create

The words that come from poets’ mouths create a scene, a moment, a feeling — poetry by nature is evocative, and talented poets use this to create images inside one’s mind. Poets are uniquely positioned to influence public opinion within the most intelligent, creative, and artistic circles of folks in your locality.

6. You share a space for free expression

Luckily, in America, we have the right to free expression, and although government entities, schools, and media may all attempt to encroach on this freedom, the encroachment is not oppressive compared to what some other countries must endure. In China, public sharing is often banned when it is undertaken in a revolutionary spirit. Nevertheless, the public sharing of misfortune, or suku, creates more group cohesion and has actually worked to shift perspectives in the country, according to Feiyu Sun. When the community opens a space to listen to the presenter, kids learn at an early age to fully express themselves.

7. You sail a human sea

At a poetry slam, you’ll always be close to others, and joining in the sea of humanity only serves to strengthen our bonds. Poets cry together, laugh together, and definitely sweat together. There’s really no better way to grock humanness.

8. Poets push hope

Because poetry captures quintessential human identity traits and explores them, the sharing creates a positive atmosphere in which much healing can occur. Members and newbies join together to experience an evening together that can bring them to tears, to laughter, to rage, and leave everyone moved and inspired by the level of sharing they experienced.

9. Life is short: realize the now

Poetry forces us to confront demons, death, mourning, and the cries of the human soul in some of its darkest places. The art form also allows us to experience, secondhand, another’s impression of a sunrise or see the sheen in a lover’s hair. This imagery, the shared mind-picture, can put one’s life in perspective. Really, a poetry slam is a cleansing ritual. A listener in the audience of a slam will immediately experience a different kind of listening, a kind where the awareness moves to be with the speaker or poet taking the stage. Maybe the inner chatter just ceases a bit more during this kind of intensive, intentional listening, but we experience the present as it is.

10. You recognize yourself as a reflection of others

Poetry sharing allows us to see the we, the us, the me in people’s eyes. The intimacy of the group setting, along with great sharing, creates the illusion of anonymity, and it allows humans to see themselves in others, to hear their stories through others’ lips, to hear their lives in another’s song. Through language, we find commonality. Through sharing, we create a context. And with great emotion, great vision, and great words, the transformation of a community is only a word away.