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It's a war of words.

Slam poetry competitions have been the most stimulating thing to hit poetry since the Beat poets took to the streets 50 years ago. The victor of these versifying brawls has been poetry itself. The wizened academics who threatened to lock it away for exclusive use in university creative writing programs have been thrown to the lions--the hip young lions who are the new gladiators of language, and their fans.

Slams are poetic battles, wrapped in pop culture and street language. The hip hop trappings seem modern, but slams actually follow a poetic tradition as old as the Druids: Words have real power.

Gary Mex Glazner, one of the champions of the slam movement, will return as a featured poet at the 20th annual Tucson Poetry Festival April 1-6. Glazner filled the same capacity at last year's festival, where he held a reading at the Ronstadt Transit Center. Seems like the bus depot is an idée fixe; this year he'll present A Busload of Poets, a film he wrote and produced, along with a reading of his work on Tuesday, April 2 at 7 p.m. in the Screening Room. On the next night Glazner will host the festival's "Saguaro Slam."

Glazner is the editor of Poetry Slam, an anthology of the movement's first 10 years.

A Busload of Poets follows the 32-city SlamAmerica tour that he organized during the summer of 2000, featuring more than 100 poets.

The "Saguaro Slam" will offer a $100 first prize, plus second and third place awards, as well as a prize for the best "Eat the Worm" poem.

Tickets for the film/reading and the slam will cost $5 each at the door. Sign-up for slam competitors will begin at 6:45 p.m. on a first come/first served basis.

The festival itself begins Monday, April 1 with a reading by Charles Alexander at Hotel Congress, followed by a champagne reception celebrating the founders, friends and sponsors of the event. The reading begins at 6:45 p.m. and a $5 donation is suggested.

Other festival events include readings by Anne Waldman, herself a national slam champion, and Alberto Rios on Thursday, April 4, and Jane Miller and Sherman Alexie on Friday, April 5. Rios and Miller teach at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, respectively. Alexie, best known for his film Smoke Signals and his fiction, started his writing career as a poet. Alexie also boasts slam credentials; he's the reigning World Heavyweight Poetry Bout Champion.

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder will close the festival with a reading Saturday, April 6.

All these readings will be held at the Loft Cinema at 7:30 p.m. Admission costs $7 in advance, $10 at the door. There will also be a series of small group sessions, writing workshops and discussions on Saturday, April 7 at MUSE.

For more information about the Tucson Poetry Festival, call 620-2045 or visit www.tucsonpoetryfestival.org.

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