Slammed! By Catriona Ward Sell


“I’m Harry Giles. And I hate my cock.”
The words which heralded my entrance into slam poetry were certainly memorable. Encouraged by St Andrews University’s creative writing club to attend, I couldn’t help feel slightly out of place as I was confronted by a guy rapping about a turbulent relationship with his genitalia. In fact, I had remembered uncomfortably, the main lure for me was that a fantastic American comedy quartet promised to perform during the interval.
I am pleased to say that my opinion of slam poetry has developed positively since then - both because of, and beyond, the next 2 minutes of Harry Giles’ rap. Recently asked the question of “what is a poetry slam?”, I failed to come up with a concrete definition. It is competitive poetry. Each competitor has a set time in which to perform - usually, around three minutes. Often, the winner of each round is determined by a team of judges and the audience. The “finalists” get to participate in a “slam off”, scoring points for writing, performance, and audience reaction. During my short time as a slam poet, I have heard many different styles of slam poetry: from students with beautifully polished lyrics incorporating lighting and music, to “Rapunzel Wizard” - a man with a foot-long beard, who waddled on stage, squatted down, and rapped about constipation. Neither won. The champion was a balding businessman who simply announced his titles and read. His poems were powerful. He spoke of war and oil in the first two, before changing his tone to hilariously - but friendlily - mock rappers. Having brought along what must have been most of his colleagues to cheer him on, they raised the roof, securing his path to victory.
Slam poets generally perform their own material, though it is not unknown to borrow another’s work. Classic works, such as John Donne’s sonnets, have been given great voices in public performance. The freedom to passionately express oneself has led to the slam’s involvement in political and civil rights movements. Often, it is not the most elaborate performance which creates the winning piece, but the truth, passion or humour of the writing. Members of the audience may be selected to act as impartial judges, although the crowd’s reaction always sways the voting. When it gets down to the final round, the audience alone may become the judge, with a show of hands or secret vote determining the winner.
With an active creative writing scene at Queen’s, the slam should naturally be brought to Kingston. On the 26th of March, the Grad Club is hosting its first poetry slam. Hosted by Jill Battson, this will not be a gentle ease into the shallow waters of Slam Poetry. It will feature a performance by The Sharp Tongues (a slam team from Toronto), Lara Bozabalian (an international slam competitor and author of The Cartographer’s Skin), Krystle Mullin, and Amanda Hiebert. To top off the night, the public are invited to compete in a slam for a monetary prize (and significant boasting rights). For those not wishing to compete, audience participation is guaranteed - in voting, judging, cheering, finger-snapping…and possibly to join the poets in propping up the bar afterwards.
You are thus invited to sharpen your writing skills, polish your performance, and gather your screaming fans to descend upon the Grad Club. Whether you want to rap, guitar in hand, to start a civil rights movement, read from the page, or just listen to the poets perform, it promises to be a great night. Hopefully, as at St Andrews, such a night will kick off a permanent and exciting Slam tradition here. And although it may not be wrapped up with lines quite as emphatic as Harry Giles’ “…and I just want a fuck, but by penis - he wants love”, it will be a memorable night. Come join in?
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Poetry Slam: Hosted by Jill Battson, featuring The Sharp Tongues, Lara Bozabalian, Krystal Mullin, and Amanda Hiebert. 26th March 2010, 7pm, Grad Club (on the corner of Union and Barry). Entrance fee: $5. Boasting rights of the winner: priceless.

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