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Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Slamnation

Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 1999 at 12:00 AM

If you liked Slam, you'll love Slamnation, Paul Devlin's accelerated, brisk and affectionate documentary which chronicles the National Poetry Slam in Portland, Oregon. Some of the verses will sound familiar; some of the players you'll recognize: Saul Williams, Slam's protagonist, Beau Sia, Taylor Mali.

Slamnation tells the story of slam from its beginnings, 12 years ago in the saloons of Chicago, to its formidable presence on the stage today, where "the adrenaline junkies of the literary world" come together to listen to, perform, eat, drink, fight, cry, blast and be poetry. Over 120 poets from 27 teams gather for the National Poetry Slam which is held every year in a different city.

The idea of a contest, however, doesn't agree with everyone. "The slam is not about competition," says Marc Smith, Chicago's Slammaster. "The slam is about the art of performance and the art of writing poetry brought together."

On the stage, a member of the New York team ends his performance: "For the truth people want to wear their Sunday's best /But it don't matter because truth will always see your Wednesday's worst. /When you're dying of thirst /For affection /Truth will be your resurrection /and your destruction." The jury rates: 7.2; 7.6; 4.3.

"You can't give a 4 to truth," says Saul Williams. "If, in your life, you have to rate -- and you've got from 1 to 10 -- the amount of energy, the amount of whatever you can give to truth, and you give it a 4, you will die."

These are the poets: temperamental, opinionated, childish, frustrated, beautiful, rowdy, unbound. This is their poetry: raw, rhythmic, wicked, exhilarating and, above all, alive! This is the National Poetry Slam: an endless celebration of language, an unparalleled site of rhetorical festivities:

"In case you hadn't noticed /It has somehow become uncool /To sound like you know what you're talking about /Or believe strongly in what you're saying.

"Invisible question marks and parenthetical 'you knows' and 'you know what I'm sayings' have been attaching themselves /To the end of our sentences /Even when those sentences aren't ... questions?"

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