Ann Arbor Poetry Slam
Provocative to profound
From the September, 2015 issue
In 1987, less than a year after the first-ever poetry slams were born in Chicago, Ann Arbor became just the second city in the world to host them. They've continued here, almost without interruption, ever since.
Poetry slams are you-have-to-be-there events. An imperfect analogy: poetry readings are to poetry slams what the Cleveland Quartet at Rackham is to Rubblebucket at Bonnaroo. Slams are a loud mix of poetry and theater, an almost-anything-goes, literary free-for-all--albeit with some rules. Sunday nights at Silvio's, the Ann Arbor Slam's home for the past couple of years, poets don't play instruments or use props or backing music, and they don't wear costumes. They do speak, whisper, murmur, growl, snarl, yell, and shout. They recite their poems from memory, from smartphones and iPads, from scraps of paper, napkins, and notebooks. They are teenagers, middle-agers, gray-hairs, no-hairs, dyed-hairs, of every gender, sexual orientation, skin color, and race. They get a microphone, three minutes, and a chance at the crowd's attention. They're greeted with respectful applause, finger snapping, raucous whistling, whooping, and church-style hollering, and scores from three randomly selected judges from the audience. They move on to the next round--or not.
While the slams have rules, the poems don't. At Silvio's, on any given Sunday night, I've heard poems that rhyme and that don't, that are dramatic and dark, comic and light, furious and sad, current and historical, fictional, autobiographical, socially conscious and not. There have been poems about women in prisons, men working in preschools, Cosmopolitan magazine's tips about managing romance in the office, and abortion. The best ones bring it all--provocative to profound. Garret Potter, co-host of the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam, read one recently that began, "I wonder about animal sex ..." to predictable audience reaction. His poem quickly clarified that he wasn't interested in having sex with animals, but rather was curious how certain species, specifically porcupines and jellyfish, manage the act. And then the poem evolved startlingly into an insightful
and passionate meditation on sex, love, and humanity--all delivered with admirable intensity and exuberance.
Ann Arbor slams were a monthly feature at the Heidelberg from 1987 until 2009, then were revived in the fall of 2013 and moved to Silvio's. Now the local slam is changing again. Beginning this month, cohosted by Potter and fellow slammer Tariq Luthun, it moves across State St. to a new home at Espresso Royale. There'll be slams on the first and third Sundays of every month, with the other Sunday nights featuring poets' meet-ups and workshops.
Last year, Ann Arbor sent a team to the National Poetry Slam for the first time in several years, and many there commented that the Nationals hadn't been the same without Ann Arbor being represented.
[Originally published in September, 2015.]
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