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Poetry Grand Slam

Emilie Terhaar | Thursday, April 18, 2013



Scene Writer

When someone says “poetry slam,” I imagine what everyone from our generation imagines ¾ that episode of “The Proud Family” when the young female protagonist recites some sassy poem against an exposed brick backdrop to a smoky, darkly-lit room while the crowd emphatically snaps along. 

Notre Dame’s first ever poetry slam, hosted at the Snite yesterday evening, was nothing like what “The Proud Family” taught me to expect. Essentially, a poetry slam is a poetry reading performance contest. Because of the competitive aspect, it is different from a reading at which poets simply read their work aloud. The judges give the poets scores out of 10 based on the quality of their poems and their deliveries. The best poet does not necessarily win, but the best poet-performer does. Points can be deducted for not having the poem memorized or mispronouncing words and lines. 

Last night’s slam featured 14 poets, some of whom were undergraduates at Notre Dame and some were graduate students, while others were well-established poets from the greater Midwest community. Each of five judges scored the performances, and then the highest and lowest scores of the group were dropped, so each poet received a score out of 30 total possible points. The audience was allowed to voice their opinion through raucous booing if they disagreed with the judges’ scoring.

There were cash prizes for the top scorers, and despite there being 14 competitors, including seasoned slam poets, the first-place finisher was actually a Notre Dame undergraduate who had never before performed in a poetry slam. If the potential to win money is not incentive enough to participate in the next poetry slam, there was also a DJ and a really nice selection of hors d’oeuvres.

If you are into theater, poetry, music, rap, acting, writing or excitement, you would probably have loved this. I had never been to a poetry slam before and was knocked off my feet. I had no idea what to expect from each performer. Middle-aged housewives turned into awkward, sympathetic girls in front of my eyes. What seemed like a typical skinny, hunter rain boot- and Northface-wearing, blonde Notre Dame girl transformed into a fireball of sass and honesty on stage. A perfectly normal looking, shabbily-dressed, middle-aged, long-haired man became suddenly very southern and very bothered by politics. I heard black eyeliner referred to as war paint, a woman say Brown v. Board of Education was merely a prequel, while complaining about her children’s public school, and liturgical items mentioned as standing in for elements of intimacy in a relationship.

To compete in a poetry slam, you need not be a poetry expert or an actor. The performers were from across the board, and they were all impressive and really fun to watch. The hour-long slam was full of shouting, clapping, whistling and even some snapping. There was a fair amount of people in attendance, but the crowd was warm, understanding and accepting. It was hard not to have a good time, whether competing or just watching.

I had never before planned on attending or becoming a part of a slam, but I realized after the first poet performed I had to do it. Who knows when Notre Dame will have another? I can’t wait until then! I am probably going to seek out some poetry slams for summer break. Now I just need to think of something to say and get some attitude! 

Contact Emilie Terhaar at                                   eterhaar@nd.edu