The Artistic Sensibility of Slam

This might be surprising to some... Artistic SENSIBILITY of Poetry Slam? I've realized that in looking carefully at the elements of this form, a modern approach to creativity emerges. For better or worse (decide for yourself) I believe the points below outline relevant ways that many artists today are responding to social and cultural issues. Any one of these points could be dilated, but these are the primary "ingredients" of the Poetry Slam Artistic Sensibility:

1. Word Over Image
There is a visual minimalism to Poetry Slam. It is about WORDS after all. There are no physical images attached to any performance or poem and the message is delivered without props or scenery.

2. Art For Social Change
The totally idealistic belief that one person can make a difference in the mind of someone else is at the root of Poetry Slam. For many, it becomes the chance to "answer back" a society asleep at the TV. And while political Slam Poetry may not always be politically astute, Slammers often reflect current world affairs and events with refreshing clarity.

3. Anyone Can Play
A willingness to soil elevated poetic hands with the sport of scores, decimal points and digits defines the Poetry Slam. These "ugly" elements are exactly what makes a Slam accessible to a broad audience. In turn, accessibility itself creates the possibility for social change or awareness. The judges of the Slam are not usually experts at anything so it's a simple example of democracy in action. More importantly, win or lose, this is risky business for any artist...leaving your "artistic" fate in the hands of a stranger is dangerous business. Sensitive poet meets "insensitive" judge. Poetry Slam becomes the modern caricature for this classic artistic relationship.

4. Interdisciplinary Form
Poetry Slam blurs all kinds of lines. Is it poetry or prose? Theater or commercial break, political or private, a sporting event or a literary reading? Even though it's twenty years old by now, Slam remains unsure of itself: is it the poem, the message or the performance that will win over the judges? And does their opinion matter anyway? Perhaps the hybrid ingredients of Poetry Slam suggest a kind of artistic evolvement (or devolvement!) of our cultural life, but that will certainly remain to be seen.

5. Gender Awareness
The issue of gender in society is a continual source of inspiration for Poetry Slammers and every single woman involved in this scene is a strong individualist and leader in their own right without exception. These are hardly complaints or rants alone; the poetry consistently becomes a description of gender struggle and personal examination of the larger social framework we all live in.

6. Questioning the Authority
Like all good "movements" of one kind or another, Poetry Slam questions the authority of everything that came before it. Sure, sometimes it asks the wrong questions, sometimes its sounds predictable, but nonetheless, it remains responsive and reflective of the changing world around us.

7. Reaching for the Spiritual
The best moments of Poetry Slam are deeply personal expressions of an inner search. These are expositions of universal longings that defy time and place and bring the audience to an elevated yet common ground. These moments must be experienced; they are difficult to describe unless you stand witness and participate. At the height of the best Poetry Slam performance, the poet is a true medium, the medicine woman/man at the center of the crowd, conjuring up a universal and transcendent experience for everyone present.

- Clare Ultimo, 2007