Fighting Words

Mixing it up at a poetry slam.

Food fight! That's right, in their continuing efforts to bring poetry to the people, the folks at the Tucson Poetry Festival are proud to present their First Annual Poetry Slam. Oh yeah? And what, exactly, is a poetry slam? I'm glad you asked. How about a little history: once upon a time, back in the '80s, before the turn of the century, a man named Marc Smith came up with an idea for entertaining the Sunday regulars at a bar called the Green Mill--poetry. To get more bang for their buck, judges were chosen at random from the audience to "score" the poems. The idea caught on. Nationally.

Tucson is no stranger to performance poetry--remember Poetry-O-Rama, hosted by Dennis Prieto, with the spinning wheel, the speed round?--and yet, this new dealie is a whopper. Hosted by Gary Mex Glazner, editor of the anthology Poetry Slam and producer of the first National Poetry Slam, this event promises to raise the roof of the Screening Room on April Fourth.

Raise the roof? What's the difference between a slam and an open-mic reading? Again, I'm glad you asked. A poetry slam is like a lyrical boxing match that pits poets against poet. Yes, there's prize money involved, too. During a bout, teams of poets (as well as an individual poet) take turns performing their work. Judges score each poem from 0-10. The teams can choose to perform a group piece during a member's slot, or that person can perform alone. Poets who perform alone have the opportunity to advance to the individual finals even if their team doesn't make it as a unit. Consequently, strategy comes into play when team members decide whose slot will be sacrificed for a group performance that may earn the entire team points. Unlike theater or music performance, poets aren't permitted to use props, costumes or music. Unlike open-mic performances, each poet has a time limit of three minutes.

Interested? Wanna see "street" poets and "academic" poets battle it out for the $100 cash prize? Wanna throw your own words into the air? The Food Fight: A Poetry Slam kicks off the 19th annual Tucson Poetry Festival this Wednesday, April 4 at 7 p.m. at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St. $5 gets you inside to see or be the action.
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