SLAM GONE SOFT? -- Another old "thought"

After reading the Times (New York Times for those unfamiliar), I have to say I am shocked at the article "Is Slam in Danger of Going Soft?"

*Now let me put this on pause because I told you all this was a music blog, and although poetry isn't music, without it there would be no hip-hop. No poetry in motion. No art from the mouth and for that ass* Now as I continue...

I am not shocked at the fact they covered slam poetry; I actually think that is amazing! An international yet city, newsy newspaper/magazine/website diving so deep into culture, especially non-mainstream culture, deserves a lot more respect than it is getting right now. HOWEVER, I am shocked at the angle the reporter went for this topic. The angle just stayed with "slam is dead", "slam is commercialized", "slam has lost its ground". The reporter failed to get all sides of the story. Nowhere in the article is a quote or graf that opposes the idea that slam is dead, there isn't even a sentence on there that makes the reader think critically about slam poetry. He just handed some dead slam poetry on a platter to his readers.

I do agree slam poetry is becoming commercialized, with that "Brave New Voices" show on HBO and every place's attempt to carbon copied open mic nights. But I disagree with slam poetry being dead. That's like saying hip-hop is dead. Yes, hip-hop is commercialized and starting to lose its ground, but it isn't dead. Like hip-hop, slam poetry will continue to have its grassroots implanted in society. Let's look at the meaning grassroots because one of the sources mentioned slam as grassroots in the beginning but now is a sport of who can say the previous line better, but onto the term grassroots:
  • For something to be "grassroots" or "a grassroot movement" it must have the people in mind first. It must start at the root, it must start with the people, it must hone that "for us, by us" attitude. Without the people, that sense of community, who will move the opposition out? Who will plant the seeds and make the roots grow?
  • Another thing about the term grassroots is the roots must grow, they must develop into what moves the people to liberate against the opposition. I'm not endorsing people like Russell Simmons or Stan Lathaan or Diddy to air out all that moves the young and unrested, but I can't be mad at the kid on national television who is spitting about being in school rather than on the street.
  • But once money becomes involved with art, like the old saying goes, the art is lost. But in all honesty, like what was done with different movements (i.e. BAM) there are ways to fight that as well, which is the combative side of a grassroots movement. A grassroots movement doesn't end on the dollar.
As for slam poetry and this "interesting" article in the Times, they are both in need of its color. Sure, the person who started slams was white (who was quoted the most in this article), a guy by the name of Marc Smith, but the origins of its style and poetics are Black. Let's be real. I want to dapper with this thought: an art with Black roots and a white guy making it a competition; does that in itself cry irony, especially in this article (that, by the way, does not have a Black source in it except for an old quote from Amiri Baraka on poetry) where he claims an art that he turns into a competition dead? Sit on that for a little bit...

For my music and art people, it's no secret the outlets are becoming commodified, but never will it die. It may change, it may integrate with the mainstream, it may divide within its own community, but as long as the roots are still implanted in society no art, no movement will ever die.


  1. To me putting money into this phenom that has been around for ages is moreso a help to it than a hurt. (as the article and old sayings go)

    I think with today's day and age and possible the point that Def Poetry Jams and things like Brave New Voices exist are to show the people of today that poetry in its most simplistic state still exists and that being passionate for it is not wrong but something that can change a life.

    To me putting that out commercially and through carbon copied slams you are showing those less fortunate, less well off, more well off, more fortunate really all of the above that there is more to poetry than just the joking haikus and boring sonnets you read in english class trying to stay awake. That it can be something to express yourself through. That it is made for and by people that they see on the street walking by them everyday. It also shows that not everyone has to be a rapper because lets be truthful even 50 year old men still want to be rappers when they watch television or listen to the radio and think I could do that.

    Putting it out there commercially is showing the roots in grassroots. Speaking up politically and socially about issues affecting not only one part of the nation but the world today. I completely agree when you say that it is not dead and that it will never die. But I see the commercialization as a great thing for the communities of poets who participate in such things..

    What I don't agree with is the judging of someones poetry based on guidelines as they do in many competitions and slams. I don't feel you can give a point value to someones opinions, feelings, or innermost thoughts that they chose to share with the public at that time. But then with anything I personally don't have control over that either but when it comes to competitions and slams of that sort I do feel for these poets.

    I think pulling in a younger generation to the art of poetry slamming and poetry in general could and would be a phenomenal thing for society if only they would learn to embrace it instead of putting it down as you seem to describe this article doing.

  2. geeze i feel as if my comment is as long as ur blog.. sorry bout that jus got a lil passionate about the subject..