The whole idea of competitive poetry is pretty funny. Actually, the word that originally came to my mind was nerdy. One of my friends asked what slam was and I said, “simply put, it’s competitive poetry” and as I said it, it sounded like the dorkiest thing next to playing magic cards (sorry any of you who play).
Poetry is a strange thing to compete with because it’s sometimes hard to quantify its value with a score from 1 to 10. Sometimes it’s not hard at all when you really liked the poem. But because there are no set technical standards by which to judge the poem it’s all very vague and heart-led. Which is fine by me. It’s just that it can get a little fuzzy- often.
Speaking of fuzzy, poets can be so love-pouring. Many of them anyway. I heard a pretty awful story about one poet getting downright nasty and offensive towards another because Poet A didn’t agree with the content of Poet B’s piece. So un-poetic. But for the most part, people are for the most part respective of others’ poems. They may not like them, but from my experience, there’s usually more expressed emphasis on what they do like.
On Friday I competed in a slam. Before it began there were so many arms wrapping around necks and backs in welcoming embraces. “how are you?” poets who have only recently met personally asked one another, looking directly into the pupils of the other. They mean it. They want to be friends or at least to connect on Facebook in order to stay in touch.
Poets often tell each other how amazing the other’s poetry is. “There were so many lines in there that were just fantastic!” If they say anything to you at all, they’re sincere.
“You’re poem was real good” one vetran poet told me at the festival next year. “Just come up to the mic a little more next time. You gotta get closer” Vetrans give the newbies advice.
With all the love and commune-like sentiment within the community, it’s almost contradictory that we would get into a “gladiator circle” and compete against one another. But we do. We all want to win something and we all want to be the best at what we do.
And that’s what’s unique about competitive or slam poetry compared to… basketball or some other competitive sport. In those sports, you and the opponent have the same skill-set more or less. You both know the rules of the game and have a similar set of moves that you use. In poetry though, you can’t really go in to beat another person per se because your styles might be completely different. It’s almost like comparing smoothies and meat pies. Both delicious, both edible, but totally different. I wrote an article that touches on the idea of being the best you can be that relates to what I’m saying here. You have to throw down in slams but you have to do what you do. You can’t go in trying to do what so and so does but better. Won’t work. Do you boo.
The poets who made the team this year are a good combination and will represent in Saskatchewan. After the slam, there were more hugs, photos, and compliments. It’s not all “sunshine and lollipops” as one poet belted in his piece, but truly, slam poetry is the sweetest competition I’ve been blessed to be part of.