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Poetry Month

Slam Poetry in NYC

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Slam Poetry is alive and well in New York City and beyond. Check out this slam the NYPL and Urban Word hosted at the Bronx Library Center, featuring the Precision Poetry Drill Team.  With so many of the Urban Word visiting poets coming from the Slam tradition, I want to take a moment and discuss the art form and point you towards exciting Slam events, videos, and resources in New York City.

The history of slam poetry is complicated, almost as complicated as trying to find the first Ray’s Pizza in New York. However, most agree that the first Poetry Slams were held at the Green Mill Jazz Club in Chicago, IL, circa 1984. Slam is a freewheeling, ever-evolving form. Everyone from hip hop emcees to punk rockers have tried their hand at Slamming.

The best way to define slam to is to leave it to two prolific poets. Saul Williams rhymes, “We are determined, to be the channelers of these changing frequencies into songs, paintings, writings, dance, photography, carpentry, love, and LOVE.” Rapper and occasional poet Common says, ‘I sing a song for the hero unsung, with faces on the mirror of the revoluSHUN...”  Slam is yet one more way that creative people are expressing themselves. As soon as someone defines it, someone else comes along and changes the game.

In a typical Slam, poets are given a fixed amount of time (usually 3 minutes) to perform their poem. Other than that, nothing is out of bounds. You just need to rock the crowd with your words. Props are thought to detract from the poetry, and are almost never allowed. Check out Saul Williams absolutely throwing down in this clip.

Urban Word NYC holds a Slam Tournament throughout the Winter and Spring, culminating in a final Slam at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, with prizes and celebrity judges and performers. The tournament is free and open to everyone. Visit UrbanWordNYC on the web for more details.

If you can’t wait until next year to start slamming, the Nuyorican Poetry Cafe has been hosting Open Slams for twenty years, and they are going strong. They host Open Slams every Wednesday and Friday night.  For more information, visit nuyorican.org.

NYPL also hosts poetry slams throughout the year. Check our calendar of events at nypl.org/events, and select “Literature, Poetry, and Writing” from the Event Topics menu.

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