Arts & Culture
SA’s Gritty PuroSlam is Feared, Respected in National Slam Poetry Scene
Published: August 20, 2014
See, there is this place where people participate in a ritual derived from the verbal tradition of telling and retelling stories to a room of bodies, barstools and emptying bottles until the stage is a pulpit. Some call it prayer. These people keep calling it slam poetry.
Slam is conventionally defined as the art of competitive performance poetry. Invented in the 1980s by a Chicago construction worker named Marc Smith, slam is a competition in which poets have three minutes and 10 seconds to impress randomly selected judges. Scores for each participant range from 0.0 (never read that shit again) to 10.0 (come home with me).
For participants, slam becomes a church of sorts, complete with community, communion and confession. San Antonio’s slam bible is written on bathroom stalls, everyone speaks in tongues and the pastor’s name is Shaggy.
If you have ever stumbled into Southtown 101 late on a Tuesday evening, you know the heaven and hell of which I speak. It’s a scene straight out of the director’s cut of an ironic and fictional film titled Bukowski’s Leftovers. PuroSlam, the only nationally certified poetry slam in San Antonio, is hosted every Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. Poets slam, DJ Donnie Dee spins and spectators get drunk and yell things.
PuroSlam was started in 1999 by Benjamin Ortiz, but was quickly left in the hands of Jason “Shaggy” Gossard in 2000. The slam has gone through several moves, a handful of fights and even a few gunshots fired but has stayed unflinchingly true to its founding goal to be one of the toughest and rowdiest slams in the U.S.
“I come from a music background. There is a reason I hold [the] slam so late and at a bar–I want it to have that punk-rock atmosphere,” Shaggy told the Current. He admits the slam has pissed off a lot of national poets, but emphasizes the thick skin it builds. “I haven’t tried to dictate the rules. The heckling is sometimes rough, irreverent and can be disrespectful, but then again, not everyone is meant to do this.”
This black sheep mentality defined San Antonio’s presence at the National Poetry Slam, which took place earlier this month (August 5-9) in Oakland, Calif. PuroSlam sent a team of four poets (J. Alejandro, Christopher “Rooster” Martinez, Rayner Shyne and Diamond Mason) who competed throughout the year for their elusive spots.
NPS is an annual poetry slam championship tournament, where forsaken misfits of society (aka poets) from all over North America and Europe gather to compete against one another for the national team title. The weeklong festival is part championship tournament, part poetry summer camp and part traveling exhibition. Staged in a different city each year, NPS has emerged as slam’s highest-profile showcase.
For 2014, the San Antonio team took a decidedly less in-your-face approach after being booed, hissed and hostilely confronted last year for their “boundary-pushing” pieces. These included a persona poem from the perspective of two serial killer necrophiliacs and a piece between owner and dog in which one poet licked his own crotch on stage. I’m sure you guessed it—use of the word “bitch” was also a problem. (If you can’t beat ’em, offend ‘em.)