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Forum - Poetry Slam Magazin - From 5 years to 92 years ... It opens the door...

Franzi Röchter

From 5 years to 92 years ... It opens the door ...

Exklusiv-Interview mit Marc Kelly Smith, dem Begründer des Poetry Slam, für, über die bisherigen und zukünftigen Entwicklungen des Poetry Slam seit seiner Erfindung ...
Exklusiv für gibt Marc Kelly Smith trotz seiner knapp bemessenen Zeit während seiner Schweiz-Tour ein umfangreiches Interview. Hier im Original seine Worte zu den Entwicklungen des Poetry Slam ...
Vielen Dank, Marc Kelly Smith!!!

Dear Marc, thanks a lot for taking the time to answer some questions. At the moment, you are on a European Tour. Do you also do regular tours in the States? For how many years have you not been to Europe?

For the past ten years I’ve been touring in europe and elsewhere in the world about two or three times a year. This past spring I started touring in the USA again and plan to travel around to all the American slams in 2011, the 25th Anniversary year of poetry slam.

What do you think of the idea of establishing poetry slams related to the age of the performers (U20, Ü30 and so on)?

Poetry slam is probably the best educational tool for getting young people interested in reading, writing, and performing poetry. It opens the door for many young people to find expression for the confusion and conflicts that arise during adolescent years. It also provides opportunities for adult slammers to supplicant their performing incomes with fees paid by the schools. I think it’s a very good thing.

Marc, part of your philosophy of poetry slam contains this:
„But slam is not about making stars. It’s about everybody all together in a room with their hair down and feet up. From its beginning, slam has been an art form and entertainment open to all people from all walks of life – young and old, rich and poor, blue collar and white collar, gays and straights, priests and prostitutes, biologists and belly dancers – a multi-colored, multi-cultural gathering of people who love to hear and perform poetry. That’s right, any and all are welcome at a slam.“
How close do you think does the present form of poetry slam comes up to your original idea and philosophy?

It think it is truly remarkable that a 25 year old art/entertainment movement is still very much under-the-radar, still for the mpost part a grass roots phenomenon. There are a few slammers who are in high focus on the commercial media stages, but for the most part slammers who tour make a humble living much in the way jazz muscians survive on the ecomonic plane. Shows around the world still attract all sorts of people from all levels of the social/economic ladders. Slam is not as raw as it once was but it is still an outsider art form.

How many women perform poetry in the United States compared to the figures in Europe, particularly Germany? How comes that the number of female poets on stage seem to be so small compared to the male fraction, although writing poetry is widely supposed to be a female activity?

As I tell people all the time, the early years of slam in Chicago and the USA were dominated by female poets and performers. Cin Salach, Patricia Smith, Lisa Buscani, Karen Nystrom, Jean Howard, Brigid Murphy, Anna Brown, Sheila Donahue, Carrie Lovestad, and dozen more were the best of the best. Sometime in the mid-ninties things swung to a male dominated stage. (Coincidently the same time major media coverage focused on the slam world.) Fortunately in Chicago the women are once again flourishing on stages. I do not know why men (especially in Germany) came to dominate slam stages. Why do men dominate othereas of the performing arts? Someone smarter than me has to figure that one out.

When you established poetry slam, did you have in mind that any form of written literature should be considered, such as short stories, reports and so on, or was your main focus on poetic verses and real poems?

At the Green Mill show in Chicago I have not encouraged short fiction writers to perform. Itt’s the poetry slam not the short fiction slam. But over the years there have been many short stories successfully presented, and there is now a highly successful Story Slam in Chicago. Open to all forms should be the guideline. Local slams should decide for themselves if short fiction should be included in an evening of slam performances.

Can you still rembember some very special incidents during your first slams? Did unexpected things happen?

No time to give you a good answer for this one.

Did you have enemies, people who were disaffected or counteracted your efforts of spreading literature and poetry?

Still do. Mostly from high level academics, over-rated poetry scholars, and cultural snobs who are jealous about the huge audiences slam atttracts.

„The average audience member at a slam attempts to judge a poem's artistic worth not on literary or grammatical qualities, but rather in comparison to the general popular culture around them. Armed only with the experience of what they as individual people are entertained by in other parts of their lives, they apply the same standards to judging performance poetry.“ (Joe Pettus: How to win a poetry slam). Do you think this behaviour does justice to a poet's efforts?

Anyone who takes slam competitions seriously misses the point. Slam ompetitions are theatrical devices used to focus an audiences attention to stage and provide an engaging ritual event.
Scholars will always analyze what makes art worthwhile, but they do so after the fact. Some of the best writing being done today is by slammers as evidenced by the awards they’ve won outside the slam world and the highly reputed houses that publish them. Scholars ten or twenty years from now I am sure will be praising these slammers rather than discrediting them.

Do you think there exists an ideal age to start with slam poetry and performing?

From 5 years to 92 years years.

How do you explain the huge thematic differences in poetic expression between the United States and Germany, for instance (politics versus comedy)?

Too many insincere political indentity poems that sound exactly the same from poet to poet in America. Lots of comedy in Germany and Switzerland, but from what I’ve seen and heard, quite a bvit of variety in how the humor is presented and some it pushes the edge of what the audience is comfortable with.

It was an original intention or impetus of slam events to enhance democratisation of the audience. „Slam is the lighthouse for the democratization of art.“ (Bob Holman in Poetry slam. The competitive art of performance poetry. San Francisco) Do you think this idea ist still alive? One realizes that sometimes some people do not really want to be part of the jury, do not want to participate, they just want to be entertained.

God bless the people who just want to be entertained as an audience with an art form that is totally out of the mainstream. The audience is what same is all about. Slam is performance poetry not just competitive poetry.

Some people believe that the present structure of poetry slam somehow represents regular structures of society. I mean, people outside the ‘scene’ might get the idea or assume that a relatively small elite of poets sort of dominates the scene. Poetry ‘stars’ are made. Would you agree?

No. The slam world has the most open doorway of any of the art forms and communities I know. Someone can walk off the street and instantly be included. And if someone doesn’t click with a particular slam group they’re encouraged to start their own. If you want to be an actor in most European countries you have climb through a rigorous hierarchy to achieve the smallest success. Not so in slam.

During a recent interview with Suisse papers (3rd. Dec.) you state that at the moment young poets rather copy ‘old hares’ instead of risking something completely new. You miss the old spirit of anarchy and poetic freedom. Do you think that all these ‘new’ sub-disciplines such as Dead or Alive Slam, Jazz Slam, Singer-Songwriter-Slam, Science Slam and so on might be an indication that the good old peace of pure literature is not sufficient any more to attract an audience which is so strongly influenced by mass media? Is it possible that the regular form of poetry slam is about to parish in the future?

There has never been a regular night of slam at the Green Mill in twenty-five years. It’s always the same but always different. There should be no “regular form” of poetry slam. It was (and is) meant to be ever-evolving experimental exploration of how poetry can be brought to passionate life and sound. Each local slam should (and do) create its own flavor of performance poetry and the show that spotlights it.

Did you ever imagine that your ‚invention’ of poetry slam would result in such a world wide and long lasting movement?

UGH. I’ve answered this too many times. Yes no maybe who cares.

Marc, you share the opinion that slam poets should not solely remain within the slam scene for more than about six years or so. For how many years will you (hopefully) still perform on stage, and who is the oldest performance poet you know?

I have been performing for 25 years on a variety of stages. I do not compete (never have). I’m a performance poet by trade and a show maker. I written and performed solo shows and with several bands. I’ve acted. I’ve produced large scale performance poetry shows and formed several poetry ensemble. Poet who are stuck performing 3 minute poems year after year at slam competition are not fully exploring their creative abilities.
David Hernandaez, long before I started the slam, was performing poetry in Chicago, as were many individuals scattered around the world. They just never included themselves in a collective and passed on performance as a legitamit activities for all poets to pursue.

What is your greatest wish concerning the future of poetry slam?

Wishes have come true. People connected together in a meaningful through the enjoyment of perofrmance poetry.

Dear Marc, thank you very much for answering these questions. It has been a great honour to me.

© Franzi Röchter, 07.12.2010

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Franzi Röchter

Franzi RöchterAutorin, Poetin, Slammerin, Reporterin, Hörbuch-Sprecherin, Klein-Verlegerin, Kulturjournalistin ... alles Mögliche, nur nicht genau das!