If you walked past the Hive Café in the Hall building last Tuesday evening, you might have heard loud talk of sex, climate change or body positivity. You might have heard stomping, yelling, snapping or even a rousing chorus of “you rat bastard, you’re ruining it for everyone! But it was weeeell worth it!”
Before you go running to report a cult gathering, give me a few moments to explain. Have you ever heard of a poetry slam?
A poetry slam is a competitive literary event where poets perform pieces of spoken word and are judged by members of the audience. There are no props allowed and a time limit of three minutes, but aside from that, anything goes.
Slam poetry started in 1986 when a construction worker named Marc Smith decided traditional poetry readings were becoming elitist and not relatable to the general public. He handed out scorecards to random members of the audience, with instructions to judge each poet on a scale of 1 to 10. If performers wanted to proceed to the next round and be able to read more poetry, they had to appeal to whoever happened to be judging. The poetry had to be relatable and hold the audience’s attention. Today, there are national and international slam competitions and touring poets who make a living sharing their art. Slam poetry also has a strong performance element, and successful competitors must be able to convey their meaning clearly through their words and gestures.
Across Canada there is a strong bond between the members of the slam community. No matter where you go the rules and rituals are the same and the spirit of cooperation and support is unwavering. No matter your age, gender, or where you come from, all you have to do is speak your truth. Slam is a medium that welcomes non-conformity, and is often a place of empowerment for those who feel oppressed or excluded in general society.
Oct. 21 marked the first poetry slam held at Concordia University. It was organized and hosted by Discordia, the university slam poetry club. More than 70 students and community members piled into the café for two hours of joyful literary discovery, from poems about love to apocalyptic metaphors, with some crustacean facts sprinkled in for good measure. After the open mic and two rounds of heated competition, the top four poets were awarded prizes ranging from a ball of twine to a golden baby shoe (and copious amounts of applause).
Discordia will be organizing poetry slams throughout the year, with the next one planned for November. Anyone is welcome to watch or perform and poetry does not have to be memorized. If you have poetry to share but would rather not compete, there is an open mic before the slam starts.
The club is also looking for volunteers to help run the slams and spread the word. Performance sign-up opens an hour before the start of each show. For more information and to stay up to date on poetry events at Concordia and around the city, join the Discordia Poetry Collective on Facebook.