Poetry slam organizer tells how it works

Poetry slam.

To those of us who still think of poetry as something to quietly read — usually alone, and sipping a cool beverage — the word “poetry” sounds uncomfortably awkward next to the word “slam.”

But that's just from the point of view of an old-school fogey (me). Poetry slams, defined as competitive performance poetry, have been around for nearly 30 years, since a Chicago poet Marc Smith is credited with putting on the first one. The first national poetry slam took place in 1990. And poetry slam now has its own organization (Poetry Slam Inc., www.poetryslam.com/). Another good source for learning about poetry slams in general is the site for the 2013 National Poetry Slam, to be held this coming August in Boston http://nps2013.poetryslam.com/

And in Dayton, poetry slams have been a part of the local literary scene on and off since 2000; off for the past few years, but now on again, thanks to a collaboration between local poet and Sinclair Community College English adjunct faculty Lincoln Schreiber and the University of Dayton’s Art Street. The next poetry slam will take place at 8 p.m. Jan. 19 at U.D.’s Art Street Studio B (screening room within the ArtStreet complex, located on the 300 block of Kiefaber Street on the University of Dayton campus).

Schreiber explains how poetry slams work. It’s different than “open mics,” at which poets simply take turns reading their works.

At poetry slams, the fun, competitive aspect of poetry performance kicks in. “Poets have three minutes and 10 seconds to share an original poem — no props, costumes, or anything like that, just their poetry and voice. Five judges, chosen at random from the audience, give a score between 0 — never want to hear that poem again — to 10 — that poem was so good that it knocked me out of my seat. At the end of the event, the poet with the highest score gets a token prize. It used to be a few boxes of Twinkies. For our new events, which we’ll be hosting monthly, it’s 10 bucks.”

But the prize money (or prize pastry treats) are hardly the point of the event; the point is “giving voice to ideas, poems, imagery with an energy that brings the poetry alive for the audience members,” Schreiber says.

Schreiber, who lives in Dayton with his wife and young child, holds degrees from Wright State University, a B.A. in broadcasting (2003) and an M.A. in English (2008). He’s published poetry in several literary magazines and competed at the national level poetry slams.

He explains that another poet and Central State University adjunct English professor Bill Abbott started Dayton area poetry slams in 2000. (Abbott is also the author of “Let Them Eat Moon Pie,” a history of poetry slams in the southeast region of the United States.)

Schreiber adds that he became “slam master” for the Dayton area from 2003-08; Jolene Pohl, poet and Dayton City Paper writer, served in that role in 2009 and 2010.

But a combination of events caused Dayton Poetry Slams to take a brief hiatus. “We lost a beloved member of our poetry slam community, poet Doug Collins,” Schreiber says. “His passing was painful for everyone who knew him; besides being a good poet and at any open mic or poetry slam he could attend, he was a good friend. That sad event, combined with an increased difficulty in finding poetry slam venues in the area, put us on hold.”

However, Schreiber says in serving on the poetry slam committee for the University of Dayton’s upcoming LitFest (April 5 and 6), he connected with U.D. associate professor of English, poet and Litfest creative coordinator Albino Carrillo. “The timing felt right to reactivate the poetry slam scene in Dayton, and U.D.’s Art Street graciously was open to us using Studio B,” Schreiber says.

Schreiber encourages anyone interested in poetry to attend the event on Jan. 19. “We’ll start with an open mic, for those who wish to share poetry but not compete. That’s a great way to develop confidence in sharing one’s work. And of course it’s fine to come and enjoy the evening, and just see what the poetry slam is all about as an audience member.”

Schreiber says anyone with additional questions about the poetry slam may email him at daytonslam@gmail.com.

In the meantime, a quick search on “poetry slam” on

will turn up videos of poetry slams if you’d like a sample. I recommend Scratch & Dent Dreams.

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