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Page vs stage: the debate continues

In the world of poetry, there is a large divide between written poetry and poetry intended for performance. Although there are a growing number of poets that see the value of both, performed or “slam” poetry continues to be seen as being of lesser value by many academics and traditional poets. The debate is often referred to as “page versus stage.”

Poetry Foundation is featuring an excellent interview right now with someone who has mastered both, Susan Somers-Willett. Here she discusses what academic poetry might learn from slam poetry:

The academy can learn something crucial from slam: how to put butts in the seats. It’s ironic that, at the same time critics were debating “Can Poetry Matter?” and lamenting the death of poetry for the general reader, slams were starting to emerge across the nation. Slam found poetry’s so-called lost audience, and instead of instructing it to sit quietly, hushed and reverent in the presence of the author, it said to react to the poet—boo, hiss, applaud, give the poem a score of a 10 or a 2.7. Having an actively engaged audience helped the slam grow into what it is today—a series of national competitions that sell out large venues in major U.S. cities.

I think this is an excellent point. Just as there are many types of music, why can’t there be different and equally valuable types of poetry. Classical music has a solid but limited audience, so does academic poetry. Slam poetry engages the audience, makes them feel passionate emotions and lets them know that their reaction to the poem is an important part of the poem. Slam not only puts butts in seats, it makes those butts think and feel. Slam is the rock super-group of the poetry world, capable of filling arenas.

If you have never been to a poetry slam, you should really try it out. Check for a venue close to you by clicking here.

Click here to read the article
Click here to listen to a podcast featuring slam discussion and one of Susan’s poems.

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