Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In the Beginning Was the Word Slam Group Brings Poetry to Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

In the Beginning Was the Word Slam Group Brings Poetry to Life

Article excerpt

William Wordsworth, one of the great English poets of the 19th century, defined a good poem as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings," feelings, he qualified, "recollected in tranquility."

What Wordsworth failed to mention, said Bob Holman, artistic director of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Live! said, is that poetry is something audiences can dance to.

Poetry is transmitted differently than it was a century ago, according to Holman. If Wordsworth and his contemporaries were the tiny transistor ra dios of poetry, then the Nuyoricans and their colleagues are the big, cumbersome boom-boxes, blasting audiences with spectacular imagery, self-aggrandizing verses and vivid vernacular. The Nuyorican Poets (pronounced Nu-Yo-Reekan), performance artists who banded together in the late 1980s, act as traveling bards of contemporary American culture. Their poetry has roots in both the Beat movement of the 1950s, and an older African-American tradition of storytelling and rhyming. The power of both those forms is lost on the printed page. The Nuyoricans are among a growing number of artists who create "performance poetry," using verbal stylings that are meant to be not only performed, but also vocally critiqued by the audience. Because poets often battle one another for attendees' approval, the style is often described as a "slam." Holman offers a radical new definition of the good poem. "Each word," he said, "has a multiplicity of meanings; the poet allows all those meanings to coexist simultaneously...to allow wholly different sums for each different reader or listener. Lazy poets throw down the words that would be expected to be there. The good poet is going to allow the words to reveal themselves" and give listeners a surprise, Holman said. In addition to Holman, the Nuyoricans that will perform next week are Edwin Torres, Samantha Coerbell, and Shirley LeFlore. LeFlore grew up here in St. Louis. Currently, she flies back and forth between St. Louis, where she is teaching a literature course at UMSL called "American Women Writers of Color," and New York, where she does most of her performing. …

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