For centuries, poetry has been an oral tradition used to pass along ancient stories and lessons; poetry has been utilized to connect the present to the past through high-minded speech and rhythm. However, this elevated form of writing soon bored people, conceiving the idea that some new art form was needed to revitalize poetry. That reviver is now known as slam poetry.
In a lot of ways, slam poetry owes its creation to the Beat and Negritude poets whose devotion to the oral and performed facets of poetry led to the birth and rise of slam poetry in the 1990’s. Slams consisted of young artists competing for the attention and adoration of the audience by exploring political, racial, and even economical notions or injustices. Spoken word such as this has fostered a sense of creativity amongst writers while simultaneously keeping the public aware of current issues.
A slam poem that I find incredibly powerful is “Pretty” by Katie Makkai. Makkai explores the notion of pretty and the pressures our society puts on superficiality and appearance. She tells the audience a personal story of her struggles with her own looks as a teenager: she had braces, acne, and eventually got a nose job. By sharing her previous insecurities and her current regret for changing herself to fit societal standards, Makkai is reaching out to change the ideals we hold for young, “beautiful” people. Makkai exclaims how wrong all of this is seeing as she has not “seen her own face in ten years,” and explains how if she ever has a daughter who asks if she is pretty, she will respond by saying “she cannot be defined by five letters.” That she will be “pretty intelligent, and pretty amazing,” but pretty is not all that she will be.
Slam poetry, whether written or just listened to, can be an extraordinary tool for changing the world. By analyzing social issues, we cultivate attention for problems facing our world today. Also, by getting involved in art and in situations that promote intelligent thought, we are creating a brighter, more perceptive future for people. Check out Button Poetry, awesome website that has some amazing slam poems and slam competitions. Peruse them and learn things you might not have known before.
Image: Christian Senger