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Come on and Slam

| Monday, April 4, 2016

PoetrySlam_WebEric Richelsen | The Observer

If you put up a sign advertising “Free Poetry,” most people would just keep on walking. Given poetry’s capacity to be hit-or-miss and its reputation for cheesiness, that’s probably a pretty reasonable response. This Tuesday night, the fourth annual “Wham! Bam! Poetry Slam!” at the Snite Museum of Art will aim to change that.

From a pool of 36 volunteers, 10 of Notre Dame’s finest poetic minds were randomly selected by a computer to face off, in the hopes of being named this year’s “slam champion” by five audience members in attendance to act as judges — I was one of those volunteers, but I can safely say that it is better for everyone involved that I wasn’t chosen.

If you also weren’t selected, or just missed your chance to sign up, you are more than welcome to show the crowd what you’ve got in the open mic — happening before the competition kicks off. There are no limits on your topic, but keep in mind that this event is open to everyone, so you could find yourself performing that poem about sexual awakening in front of a room of families.

Despite that one consideration, openness is one of the coolest aspects of slam poetry. The poet isn’t limited by structure or tone. Some poems can be heart-wrenching and carefully constructed; others can be freeform and funny. In the end, though, poetry’s inherently emotional nature means that each one packs a punch. If you aren’t convinced, there are tons of slam poetry videos on YouTube so that you can sample a few and make sure it’s for you. The Snite YouTube account also has some videos from past poetry slams, so you can see just how good this competition is going to be.

“People should come because they’ve never seen anything like it! It has always been an amazing event — fun and totally off the fall. You never know what the competitors will say in their performance,” program coordinator of the creative writing program Coleen Hoover said.

The format of a poetry slam is pretty simple: no props, no music, no memory aids. Just the performers and the three original poems they’ve prepared. Every poet gets to recite a poem in each of the first two rounds. After each performance, the five randomly-selected judges will rate the poem on a scale from 1-10. The highest and lowest scores will be discarded, and the middle three will be added together to give each poem its official rating. The five best performers advance to the third round, where they will perform their final poem.  The winner of this final showdown is this year’s champion (and the recipient of an $100 grand prize).

The open mic starts at 5 p.m. and the actual competition begins at 5:30 p.m. This slam is happening thanks to the work of the Creative Writing Program and Spoken Word ND, as well as the Snite Museum of Art, and they are all hoping that the event will fill the arena. That means get there early to ensure that you get a good seat, but don’t forget to invite all of your friends, poetry-loving and otherwise. If you’re driving to campus for the slam, there is free parking available in lot B1, located south of Notre Dame Stadium.

Poetry, even a free poetry slam, may not be your first idea of a fun way to kill a few hours (we can’t all be the special kind of nerd who has a poetry playlist on their iPod), but if you’ve never been to an event like this before, you should definitely stop by and check things out. Who knows — you might find out that poetry is more than just an awkward way to ask your high school crush to prom.

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