I hear a lot of complaints about slam poetry culture, mostly from page poets. Some of these complaints are entirely justified, although most of them apply to pretty much every other kind of poetry culture, too. (Slams only foster one, very narrow style of poetry? Possibly true, but then I’d say the same about those very blokey, modernist journals that seem to set the tone for “prestige” British page poetry.You know the ones – they’re kind of the poetic equivalent of those black duvet covers that were in vogue in the 80s). The one complaint about slam culture which strikes me as being wholly ludicrous, though, is that “It’s wrong to make poetry a competition. Poets shouldn’t be ranked and judged.”
When aren’t poets ranked and judged? I feel ranked and judged every time I get a reply to a submission I have sent off to a magazine. I feel ranked and judged when I perform at an open mic and the other guys get applauded more or less than me. I feel ranked and judged every time I get booked for a headline slot, or don’t get booked for a headline slot, or see where I am on the bill compared to everyone else. Hell, there was one festival last summer where I swear EVERYONE I HAVE EVER SLAMMED AGAINST IN MY WHOLE LIFE was asked to perform and I wasn’t. That made me feel more ranked and judged than any slam has ever done.
I actually think that slams are one of the least competitive, most supportive fora the poetry world has to offer. Yes, you get given a score, but nobody ever tries to pretend it’s anything other than the debatable opinion of 5 random people arbitrarily picked to be judges and at most slams the audiences are heartily encouraged to give praise and support to the “losers”. Where else in the poetry world does that happen?