Sunday, May 01, 2016

Louder Than A Bomb: A Night of Slam Poesía!

The 2016 Individual Youth Poetry Slam Championships at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Last night I was a judge for the 2016 Individual Youth Poetry Slam Championships, Louder Than a Bomb: Great Plains! at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  It is always great to hear students, many of them reciting what is at stake for them at this time in their lives.  Louder Than a Bomb is in its fifth year and represents 41 teams from across Nebraska and Iowa. The crowd was loudly supportive of each contestant, finger snapping encouragement at especially poignant or humorous moments. Students recited poems about family, loss, body image, police violence, racism, identity, gender.

Louder Than a Bomb audience
Slam Poetry began in the 1980s by Chicago poet and construction worker named Marc Smith.  Since then, it has grown into various national and international groups.  In the book The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America (by Susan B. A. Somers Willett), Smith is quoted: "At conception, slam poetry espoused universal humanistic ideals and a broad spectrum of participants."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln, English Professor Stacey Waite (at microphone) with slam poets. 
Last night, these Nebraska poets displayed the ideals that Smith hoped to create.  There are also a number of Chicana poets who follow in this path.  Amalia Ortiz is a good example.  Ortiz is a slam poet from the Rio Grande Valley, Tejas.  Her poem, entitled "Chicana Poet" takes on themes of identity.  Here is an excerpt:

. . . I could be a Chicana Poet
because I know my history
and I'd whip out allusion after allusion
faster than Malinche
can be malosa
faster than Cortez
can conquer
faster than Frida
can feel

and I think I could be a Chicana Poet because . . .
I have a spiritual side

yes, I could pimp my culture
use all the expected tools
box myself even further into a stereotype
of an old archetype I can't even remember

Amalia Ortiz
Somers Willett writes of Ortiz's "Chicana Poet:"  "In her performance, Ortiz speeds through the poem at a breakneck pace, alliteratively mixing languages and metaphors in her declaration of identity.  When she speaks of spirituality, however, she pauses, makes the sign of the cross, puts her hands together in prayer, and says with feigned, deeply voiced gravitas, "I have a spiritual side." Her audience quickly recognizes and applauds the inherent humor.  Although her poem may read as a critique of religion on the page, it becomes clear in performance that her critique is not as much of Catholicism as it is of Latino writers' performance of spirituality as part of their identities.  In parodically performing tropes commonly used by Latino poets both within and outside of slam, Ortiz calls attention to how they embody racial stereotypes (90-91)."

Ortiz has been the winner of "The Ultimate Poetry Boxing Championship" and she also was a National Slam Finalist.  Her book Rant, Chant, Chisme was just published last year. (Click here to read a book review.)

Amalia Ortiz holds her book, Rant, Chant, Chisme

Last night brought to mind Amalia Ortiz while also connecting me to the up and coming slam poets writing now in Nebraska.  Kudos to coach and Professor Stacey Waite who has created such a vibrant community of young poets.  As one student proclaimed at the end of the evening after he recited a final poem:  "This is where I feel at home-- where I have family-- where I feel safe to say these things."


Edward Vidaurre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amelia ML Montes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Edward Vidaurre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.