This guest blog article is by Jenny Forgey.
Slam poetry is all about community, or so I was told when I met my long time friend, Peter Nevland, at the slam tailgating he and his wife set up on the grassy triangle across the street from Spider House Ballroom & Cafe on the first Tuesday of every month.
Peter has been a part of the slam scene since the year 2000. He slams locally, but also tours around the country slinging words for eager audiences.
“I’ve travelled all over doing slam stuff,” he told me, “and I’ve never seen a scene like the one in Austin.” His wife, Vicki, added, “It’s not just the size of the crowd [that makes Austin unique], but the quality of the poets.”
It didn’t take long for me to see what they meant. Even during our casual chat around a fold out table (with an incredible spread of homemade food, by the way), I could tell these slammers were something special. What brings them and over two hundred other Austinites back week after week to the Slam Competition? Three things:
- The art form. They are artists, and this is where they show their work. Just like the amazing Austin musicians who grace us with their talent week after week, Austin’s slam poets sling forth their words in an effort to express, enlighten and entertain.
- The competition. The Austin Poetry Slam pays the winners each week: $50 to first; $30 to second, $20 to third. What starving artist can’t use a little extra cash?
- The community (which I probably should have mentioned first). These people support one another and truly do encourage newbies and old-timers alike in the working out of their words.
And it shows in the final product. After enjoying Vicki’s homemade spread, we headed across the street to the Ballroom, where three slam-filled hours started out to the musical stylings of DJ Digg.
The atmosphere is laid back and energetic at the same time – something only Austin can accomplish. It’s a come-as-you-are hangout, but you need to be sure to get there by 8:30 at the latest. By 9:15 on the night of my visit, they had to turn people away at the door because they were at capacity. (Yes, it’s that popular. According to Poetry Slam, Inc., the Austin Slam “is big…(averaging) 150-200 people in the audience every Tuesday.”)
The What, When and How
What is slam poetry? According to urbandictionary.com, slam poetry is “a type of poetry expressing a person’s personal story and/or struggle usually in an intensely emotional style. [It’s] very powerful, sincere, and moving.”
Slam poetry is different than a “poetry slam,” which is “a competitive event in which poets perform their work and are judged by members of the audience” (urbandictionary.com).
According to William Brewer, Mister Dave, and Eitan, three other slammers I met at Spider House Ballroom, this is what makes slam different from a typical, open mic, spoken word event.
“At a spoken word event,” they told me, “you’re more focused on yourself – it’s all about your voice and your message. But at a slam, you want to win over the audience. You’re sharing your writing – sure – but you’re thinking about them in the delivery. Are they with you? Are they into it or not? That’s often what will make or break you at a slam.”
Austin Poetry Slam happens every Tuesday night at the Spider House Ballroom on Furth Street. The doors open at 8 PM, but – in true artist fashion – the event tends to start late.
Slammers take the stage around 8:30. There are three rounds: Round 1 consists of 13 poets, Round 2 has six and, in the third and final round, three poets slam it out for first, second and third places. You can expect the night to last until 11 PM.
Want to slam? All you have to do is show up. Poets must get their names on the list before 8 PM.
If more than 13 poets show up (which almost always happens), there is a draw for the night. The Austin Poetry Slam always reserves three spots for folks who drive an hour or more to join in the fun. (The night I attended, the Houston VIP Slam Team was visiting.)
Know Before You Go
- On the first Tuesday of every month, there’s free food! Meet Vicki and Peter Nevland on the grass at 7 PM to enjoy the spread.
- For the show, there’s a $5 cover, cash or charge.
- The bar is open at the Ballroom, so bring money for beer, etc. You can also grab food from the food truck outside and carry it in.
- All ages are welcome.
- Snap, don’t clap. Yes, it’s part of slam poetry etiquette. In order to hear every word, audience members don’t shout out or clap if they like something – they snap their fingers until the poet is finished. Then, all bets are off. Be as loud as you want!
For more information on the Austin Poetry Slam community, including when they hold the competition for Austin’s Slam Poetry Champion, check out their Facebook page.
To book a slam poet at your school (for either speaking or workshops), contact Vicki Nevland at howtowriteworkshops.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To volunteer or become more involved, contact the head of Austin Poetry Slam, Danny Strack, at email@example.com.
Jenny Roan Forgey is a native Austinite who has been writing since she could hold a crayon. A mother of two, she spends her time writing, reading, swimming, and doing yoga.
Have you ever been to Austin Poetry Slam? What did you think?
Cover photo via Austin Poetry Slam on Facebook.