Poetry slams gain popularity



The Salt Lake City National Poetry Slam team in 2011 during the semi- finals in Cambridge, Mass. This year’s National Poetry Slam team will compete against more than 70 other teams from across the United States and Canada. Photo Courtesy Richard F. Beaubien

The Salt Lake City National Poetry Slam team in 2011 during the semi- finals in Cambridge, Mass. This year’s National Poetry Slam team will compete against more than 70 other teams from across the United States and Canada.
Photo Courtesy Richard F. Beaubien

For the past two years, Salt Lake City’s poetry slam team has made it into the semi-finals at the National Poetry Slam competition, and this year they hope that increased local interest in slams will drive them to first place.

The team that Salt Lake City will send to the National Poetry Slam in Cambridge, Mass., will compete against more than 70 poetry slam teams from across the United States and Canada. But before making it to the big leagues, local poets must compete for a spot on the team at this year’s Salt Lake City Slam Team Selection Poetry Slam Finals.

Although slams are gaining speed locally, not everyone knows what they’re all about.

A poetry slam consists of people getting on stage and vocally performing poetry they have written. Five random judges are selected from the audience and the poet has three minutes to perform their original piece. Audience members are encouraged to make noise during the poems, including calls and snapping, in order to encourage, judge and show their approval — or lack thereof — of the poem. The judges give participants a score from one to 10, which are averaged to determine the poet’s final score.

Because poetry slams are based on original work, the subject matter varies from poet to poet.

“Poets write from a range of topics from a lyrical treatise on love and math, to political rants about parking meters, to first person monologues told from the perspective of super-villains, to virtually anything else,” said Jesse Parent, a two-time Individual World Poetry Slam runner-up.

In the past, the poetry slam scene has been little known throughout Utah. However, over the last few years enthusiasm for performance poetry has flourished along the Wasatch Front with two rival poetry slam venues popping up in Ogden and Riverton and the creation of two college poetry slam teams at the U and Westminster College.

“With this burgeoning interest in poetry slam and performance poetry in Salt Lake, this year’s team selection finals will be the most hotly contested competition in the history of performance poetry in Utah,” Parent said.

The slam enthusiasm has also been evident in the increased turnout at the poetry slams each year. Over the last several years there have been more than 100 people in attendance at each slam. Consequently, event coordinators have moved slams from coffee houses and bars to full-fledged venues.

This year’s National Poetry Slam preliminary will feature the top 10 performance poets in the Salt Lake City area that have been participating in preliminary poetry slams since September of last year.

Parent will be joined this year by fellow returning member DeAnn Emett, Women of the World Poetry Slam finalist. The two will be defending their spots on the team against a slew of talented and formidable poets, including U students, Nick Shifrar, Olivia Vessel and Kari Lindsay, as well as U alumni JoKyR and Westminster College’s Willy Palomo. Rounding out the competition will be Ben Barker, RJ Walker and David Alberti.

The Salt Lake City Slam Team Selection Poetry Slam Finals is taking place March 25 at the Off Broadway Theater. It is open to the public and only $3 with a student ID.

This event is a great opportunity to witness raw talent and even participate in slam culture. Anyone interested in learning more should join the Salt City Indie Arts group on Facebook, where a detailed list of poetry slams and open mics in the northern Utah area can be found.