My background in education has included teaching English and heading up the English faculty across a dual-campus school. Perhaps this helps explain my enthusiasm for encouraging young people to twirl words – to invent, create and use language to explore their world. Lately, I have been particularly inspired by slam poetry and have found many young women I work with inspired by it too.
A poetry slam is a competition at which poets perform original work (or sometimes the work of other poets). Members of the audience judge these performances — not only on the content but on the poets’ delivery and passion as well.
Slam poetry is often political or offers commentary on social issues. I find slam poetry the most powerful when it explores gender injustices and presents as a spontaneous outpouring of raw emotion.
Slam is often more accessible for young people than traditional styles of poetry, as the vocal delivery is often like that found in hip-hop music, which many already enjoy.
In a 2005 interview cited on Wikipedia, one of slam poetry’s best-known exponents, Saul Williams, said:
|[H]ip-hop filled a tremendous void for me and my friends growing up… The only thing that prevented all the young boys in the black community from turning into Michael Jackson, from all of us bleaching our skin, from all of us losing it, just losing it, was hip-hop. That was the only counter-existence in the mainstream media. That was essential, and in that same way I think poetry fills a very huge void today [among] youth. And I guess I count myself among the youth.
The following slam poems are a few of my favourites that explore feminist issues. I urge you to not only share them with the young people in your life but to use them as inspiration and encouragement to get them slamming! Organise a slam competition at your local school, film the entries, email me and I will share some here.
You might also like to encourage students to enter the Australian Poetry Slam competition, which is being held right now. Information regarding heats may be accessed at the organisers’ new site: www.australianpoetryslam.com.
Long-term Enlighten supporter Kate Wilson slams “Sisterhood”:
Katie Makkai, a veteran poetry slammer, defining the word “pretty”: please note, Katie does use offensive language at one point.
I also have to share the following slam by Taylor Mali, “What do teachers make?” One for all my fellow educators who truly understand the value of the work we do.