I recently discovered slam poetry — thanks in large part to the video below, which went viral not too long ago — and immediately fell in love with an art form.
Anyone who knows me knows how remarkable my reaction is. Despite being a Wordslinger in my own right, poetry rarely ever grabs me the way prose does. It could be the fact that my brain functions in some parts like a scientist, or it could be my inner engineer getting in the way, but I’ve always struggled with poetry because it can be so darn abstract, so ambiguous, so… loosely interpreted from reader to reader. I have trouble with any kind of expression, even artistic expression, that obscures its meaning under multiple layers of ambiguity. I like things to be clearly defined so that the meaning is the same from Point A to Point B to Point C — and beyond. This isn’t to say that I think poetry is bad or awful. This is just how I’m wired.
I recognize that a poem can mean one thing to the poet who pens it — and something completely different to the reader who reads it. I understand that is often a major part of the appeal of the form. But when I read a poem, I want to experience what the author is feeling, I want to know what the author is thinking, I want to go along for the ride with the author, to see life and their experiences through their eyes for a few minutes. If I can’t do that, if I have to interpret the poem according to my own experiences, then I feel like part of the value of the poem is lost and I get less that is worthwhile from it.
Which is part of what I like about slam poetry. For those who may not be familiar with it, slam poetry is poetry that is written with the intent of being performed in front of a live audience. It’s designed to have inflection and body language infused into it and be such an integral part of the poetry itself that without that performance aspect, when the poem is reduced to mere words on a page, it actually loses both color and meaning. With most of the slam poetry I’ve seen, the meaning is straightforward and clear. The poet brings you along on this journey of emotional turmoil and you leave with a feeling of sympathy and empathy and a strong desire to make the world a better place. (There are exceptions, of course, slam poems that leave me puzzled and confused and wondering just exactly what it was I just saw and heard performed — but these are the exceptions.)
So, thank you Neil Hilborn, and thank you to your compatriots at Button Poetry for introducing me to a form. You have found a new fan.