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Monday, May 20, 2024

Column: Slammed wide open

Of all the terrors plaguing the earth, this might seem to be of little importance, but I feel it needs to be discussed. Signal the sirens, for there is a great lack of appreciation for poetry afoot.

I have even met a few English majors who hate on poetry. I don’t get it. It’s like enjoying the taste of basil but not pesto. Maybe when they say they dislike poetry, they are only referring to the free verse of Walt Whitman or the unconventional musings of Gertrude Stein. It’s impossible to find all poetry dull. How could anyone with a soul regard Shakespeare as uninspiring?

I have spent a good chunk of my life trying to figure out why anyone would dislike poetry. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I can only guess that the poetry haters’ main qualm with poetry is that language should be to the point. When it’s 2 a.m. and you have three midterms to study for, if you have to parse a poem, you’re most likely praying that it is easy to understand.

Truly, what better way is there to convey an image of a child running through a field of daffodils than saying “a child runs through a field of daffodils?” It’s not very artistic, but it gets the job done.

The nineteenth century British poet William Wordsworth also had a disdain for the hoity-toity style of the poetry that surrounded him. He was all about writing poetry that used the real language of normal people. A poet must be able to evoke emotion using just colloquial speech.

This whole “using common diction” idea brings me to the solution I have found for all the people out there who are apathetic towards verse: slam poetry.

Slam poetry, which started gaining popularity during the 1990s, focuses on the performance aspect of poetry. Most slam poetry originates from competitions called slams, where the audience judges a work based on its delivery and content. Think of a slam as a rap battle minus the booming bass.

I first discovered slam poetry during an open mic portion of an English Club meeting. (Subliminal message: Come to English Club meetings!) With lines like “Go Plath yourself” and “Your mind is as empty as the libraries in Fahrenheit 451,” I was hooked.

As cliché as it sounds, slam poetry is the poetry of our generation. The only true rule to slam poetry is that it must make a statement. A slam poem usually deals with contemporary issues, whether political or personal. Injustice, current events, a broken heart, any flavor of frustration – these are all fair game for a slam poem, which can be thought of as a giant, glorious rant.

Because slam poetry strives to be easily accessible and understood, formality is frowned upon. The use of slang words, uncomplicated syntax, and strong, visceral ideas are all key elements. Emotions run strong in slam poets. Their poetry lets them purge those emotions with a microphone or pen and paper.

“Slam poetry is a great way for people to express the tough stuff in life,” said Katherine Helland, a junior comparative literature major who taught a slam poetry class this past summer. “People spit about depression, racial tension and bad break-ups. They spit about abortion, unrequited love and complicated relationships with parents. There is something truly beautiful about that kind of raw emotional expression. The beauty of slam poetry comes from the actual poetry, part comes from the presentation and part comes from the audience’s response to this emotional expression.”

Slams can be found right here on campus. Last year, the Sacramento Area Youth Speaks (SAYS) Slam Finals were held at the Mondavi Center. The campus group SickSpits has a poetry night every first Tuesday of the month in Griffin Lounge. Nameless Magazine holds Expression Redefined, a showcase every quarter that is bound to contain some epic slam poetry.

YouTube and personal blogs (try searching “def jam poetry” or “spoken word”) are also good places to find your new favorite verse. Who knows, maybe in 20 years, college students will have to buy The Norton Anthology of Slam Poetry.

I can see why someone today might not appreciate the genius that is Homer. Is Odysseus’s journey as important as the fact that people are starving in Africa? I think these dead poets matter, but I’ll agree to disagree with you if you think otherwise. Just promise you’ll check out slam poetry before you write off all poetry as obsolete.

CORRIE JACOBS aspires to apply alliteration in everyday life. Send her some verse or prose at cljacobs@ucdavis.edu.


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