Bringing back slam poets to local microphone

Spokane Slam Poetry restarts downtown poetry competitions

People cheer as a lone poet takes the stage. The tension builds as a voice echoes over the audience. The voice gets louder and louder, sharing the poet’s deepest thoughts and convictions. The crowd cheers again with more enthusiasm for the poet now that they have heard his work.

The Spokane Poetry Slam is back and being held monthly at Scout Tavern starting Nov. 18.  The event will continue every third Sunday of each month.

The Poetry Slam is all about competitive performance poetry, said Isaac Grambo, the event manager of the Spokane Poetry Slam, a poet himself. Each poet who competes has three minutes on stage to perform their poem.

“It can’t be anything by Emily Dickinson; it has to be their own,” Grambo said. “We’ll have chosen judges at random off the street. We don’t use professional judges; we just pull five people from the audience coming in.”

The judges score each poet after their round with a score from one to 10, 10 being the highest. Then, the highest and lowest score of each competitor is dropped, and their three middle scores are added. There are two rounds, with a break in between in which a published poet will occasionally perform.

Some poets make it past the first round, some do not.

“If there are seven [poets], all seven will go through to the next round,” he said. “But if there are 12 to 15, we will cut it in half.”

Chris Cook, a regular attendee and competitor in Spokane Poetry Slam, said the overall experience is worth it every time.

“It’s a great, fulfilling, positive experience. It’s nice to have a venue to be able to perform your poetry, [since] most poetry readings are sedate with little applause or no applause,” he said. “With slam poetry you can convey exactly what you intended [and] you are hearing live poetry from the poets themselves.”

Slam poetry is a kind of poetry where the emphasis is on the spoken word, rather than the written aspect of it.

Senior Curtis Gatley, a theology major who regularly attends the Poetry Slam and other poetry readings, said that slam poetry is a style all its own and can change from city to city.

“It is much more accessible, it is much more subjective, and it is much more universal at the same time because it is often emotional,” Gatley said. “It can really have moments of raw emotion. You don’t need to dissect it, you can understand it as it is.”

Gatley said he enjoys many things about poetry in general.

“Even if it’s not the details, you get to learn someone’s story. You get to know them,” he said. “It is often the case that we find in our own lives, there is a deep satisfaction in finding someone else who knows the words written on your heart.”

Slam poetry started in the ‘80s, and has slowly become recognizable nationwide. However, Grambo said that slam poetry had not been a very visible part of Spokane until the Spokane Poetry Slam started. A competition involving slam had been started last year, but it had somewhat died down by the time Grambo moved to town in January this year.

“A lot of poets that had come to the event before were ready to come back [when the Poetry Slam started],” Grambo said. “[The event] is something that gets people interested in performance poetry.”

There is also a weekly event related to the poetry slam at Neato Burrito downtown, called Broken Mic. Poets are encouraged to come and read in a noncompetitive environment. It is similar to the Poetry Slam, but does not have the competition aspect and allows quite a bit more freedom for the poet.

Grambo said he was very fortunate to find a place to host the Poetry Slam as quickly as he did.

“One of the poets who worked at Scout talked to the manager there, and they actually contacted me about hosting it there,” he said. “It’s nice, it’s indoors, and it can be all ages, which is really really nice.”

Grambo said that this event will be for all ages, and anyone is welcome to come. However, content will not be censored and discretion is advised.

Scout Tavern is located at 1001 W. First Ave., and the Poetry Slam starts at 8:30 p.m Nov. 18. Sign-ups for competing in the slam will be at 8 p.m. It costs $5 per competitor and there is a $5 suggested donation for audience members.

Meghan Dellinger Staff Writer

Contact Meghan Dellinger at mdellinger15@my.whitworth.edu.