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National Poetry Slam starts Monday and continues all week

Posted by Your Town  August 10, 2013 11:07 AM

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(From left to right) Jade Sylvan, Nora Meiners, Ed Wilkinson, Oz Okoawo, and Sean Patrick Mulroy will be competing as the Boston Poetry Slam team in this year’s national competition. Photo by Marshall Goff.


The 24th annual National Poetry Slam will take place next week in Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston. Starting Monday, the tribute to the spoken word will feature workshops and preliminary slams throughout the week and end with the crowning of the national champions on Saturday night.

Simone Beaubien, the NPS host city director, said this is the biggest poetry slam event in the world, drawing teams from across the United States and Canada. She said that when Boston hosted the championship in 2011, every venue sold out, a feat that has not happened before or since.

“We were awarded the bid for NPS 2013 just four months after NPS 2011 finished, showing that our national poetry community recognizes Boston not only as a great city to visit to listen to poetry, but also a great city in which to be heard,” Beaubien said, according to a statement distributed by her spokesperson.

This year, Beaubien said they have planned for a bigger audience with larger venues and more opportunities for the community to hear teams compete with their highly entertaining work. On Tuesday through Thursday nights, 72 teams from across the country and Canada will participate in preliminary slams that will take place at seven venues in Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston. The top 20 teams will advance to Friday’s semi-finals, while 12 teams will also advance to the group piece finals.

Finally, the top four teams will advance to the finals, which will take place on Saturday, August 17 at 7 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston.

Poetry slams are competitions in which teams and individuals perform spoken word pieces and are judged by randomly selected audience members. According to Beaubien, poems sound can sound like storytelling, songwriting, political posturing, or stand-up comedy. It incorporates “a little theatre, a little rap battle, and a little stand-up-everything.”

Beaubien said that one of the greatest aspects of NPS is how it brings together different poets from across the country. She said it makes for an interesting mix of topics, styles, and flavor that is otherwise hard to find in one place.

“Boston has a sound, Chicago has a sound, San Francisco has a sound. You hear what topics those areas are interested in attacking,” she said. “Having all those voices in one space guarantees you’ll find something you’ll like.”

Sean Patrick Mulroy, a Virginia native, will be competing as part of the 2013 Boston Slam Poetry team. Having competed in six national poetry slams and being a professional slammer, he said the atmosphere during poetry slams is definitely charged.

“When slamming is really good—you’re in a hot room and you’re reading a poem you’re in the mindset—there’s nothing like it. It’s electrifying,” Mulroy said.

Mulroy said that one of the great things about performing spoken word is that it pushes him to keep his audience in mind. In slam poetry, performers have three minutes to deliver their message, forcing them to get straight to the point and reach out to the audience.

“You’re reading something you wrote and care about, but you’re doing it with the intent to reach the listeners,” Mulroy said. “That connection with the audience, that visceral, ‘everyone’s eyes are on you and you have three minutes to say what you need to say,’ can be great for creating a sense of urgency in what you do.”

Beaubien said that while NPS focuses on crowning a victor, it is also a great opportunity for poets to join forces and learn from one another. Throughout the week, day activities, workshops, and performances will take place, led by some of the top performing poets in the country.

“Nationals as an event has become not just a competition but a festival,” Beaubien said. “It’s not just a place to compete, but also to share ideas.”

Beaubien said that Boston has already showed its love and support of spoken word. She hopes that this year, even more people will come and listen to the talent that will light up stages across the area. She said that this is the perfect opportunity for individuals who have never been to a poetry slam to get a taste of the talent, energy, and passion that performers have to offer.

“Slam is very topical, very cutting edge, and the work you hear this year you might never get to hear again,” Beaubien said. “I don’t know when or if the nationals will be coming back to Boston, so this is it, I wouldn’t miss it.”

The 2013 National Poetry Slam will take place August 12 through 17. For a full list of venues, the schedule, and ticketing information, visit the National Poetry Slam website.

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