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Charged, audience-driven poetry leading some higher in educational pursuits

Photo: Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Josh Huskin

Rising young poets: Nathan Zertuche and Ariana Brown.

Photo: Photo by Modest, License: N/A

Photo by Modest

Shaggy slams some verses at Sam’s Burger Joint.


Amada Flores — a fiery reader who has represented SA at the National Poetry Slams (where teams from all over North America meet and compete for five days), coyly references Plato and incorporates a mean moonwalk into her routine. She’s diplomatic in her critique of the local Slam scene, respecting every style, but bluntly speaks with the generosity of a burgeoning master. “Sometimes you hear the same poem again and again and you want the guy to get over it.”

 

If Slam can be admittedly bad, it may only be because it is a vetting process that calls itself art. The editing that usually takes place in writers’ heads, then in notebooks, exists here largely in the audience response — which in SA tends to be unabashedly critical. “We’ve got that reputation,” says Shaggy. “We used to be called The Heckledome.” Poets who have a relatively easy time in nearby Austin — which Shaggy describes as the quintessential Slam scene — can have a miserable time here due to the quick jeers from an absolutely engaged crowd.

“SA poets warrant, and get, great respect all over the nation.” says Tammy Gomez, a Fort Worth poet who increasingly meets slammers “more interested in accessing a quick road to fame and fortune — such as might be available to competitive poets — than in coalescing with other poets and activists to bolster a specific campaign or issue in the larger community.”

Serving that “larger community” is what inspired Joshua “Lakey” Hinson to start a project called Puro Slam Working, encouraging Slam poets and fans to give back to the community that so often supports their art through donations and travel funding. “So far, Puro Slam Working has volunteered just under 600 hours since September of last year,” he said. Volunteer work is primarily done at either Inner City Development or Trey’s House, a Westside recreation club for people with brain injuries. Trey’s House hosts readings, too. Junior-high kids into Allen Ginsberg shared the stage with a retired school teacher who now sells newspapers on a street corner to get by. They are people who have come together for a family-style dinner, to engage in art, and to feel no judgment. “There is no competition here,” Hinson says before reciting a poem inspired by the Tom Waits album Rain Dogs. “Here it is all about support.”

What Slam does — beyond alienating some academics and encouraging some kids — is democratize poetry, inviting everyone in and excluding only those who get stage fright. A young woman named Val, who resembles Avril Lavigne and teaches junior high, is a total fan of Puro Slam, and judges the event often. But Val, who writes poetry herself and is accustomed to being in front of a class, finds the experience of reading before a Slam audience too nerve-wracking. This educated 24-year-old, who’s familiar and comfortable with Shakespeare and Dickinson, as well as the vampire books her students read, is here every Tuesday night because she loves the poetry.

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