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.