Entertainment Weekly

Subscribe

Stay Connected

Subscribe

Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content
Emmys 2017
Every unforgettable moment, every gorgeous dress.Click here

Article

SPOKEN WORD CLUBS

WHERE ROCKERS, RAPPERS, AND BEAT WANNABES CAN SLAM AND SLAM ALIKE-POETRY SLAM, THAT IS

Posted on

It’s the new rock & roll, only cheaper: Just 50 cents for a Bic, some scrap paper, and you’re ready to slam. This is the new poetry, out-loud style, and it can be heard at the poetry slams that take place at 20 spoken word venues around the country. The coolest: Nuyorican Poets Cafe on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The slam here works like The Gong Show of verse: Judges selected from the audience are asked to rank performers by raising numbered placards; the highest score wins $10-enough to cover admission and two Rolling Rocks. Permutations of these frequently raucous evenings include the Heckler Slam, in which the regular house hecklers get a dose of their own razzing, and the Low-Ball Slam, in which the poorest score wins.

If the scene strikes you as just too pretenti’s ample product to sample at home. The best of the new poetry: Kill Rock Stars, a grass-roots record label based in Olympia, Wash., that does spoken word releases; Slam!, a Boston quarterly; rock musician Henry Rollins’ spoken word disc, The Boxed Life; the rap of Public Enemy; and the wordplay of Paul Beatty (best described as hip- hop meets Bugs Bunny meets Miles Davis), whose Big Bank Take Little Bank can be ordered through the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (a Viking/Penguin book is in the works for spring 1994). The worst (or most suspect) of the genre: MTV’s 30-second poetry spots; pseudo-beatnik rappers Digable ”We Make Money Like That” Planets; and Hollywood wannabeats Ally Sheedy and Sean Penn, both of whom have published poetry. And we’ll just forget that those Gap commercials with Max Blagg ever happened.