Burns Night 2022
24 January 2022
Joan Koenig on the Power of Music
12 March 2022

Slam Poetry at the Library

Words have power, and poetry has been an art form used to inspire some of the greatest movements in history. This February, Children’s and Teens’ Services Intern, Pallas-Amenah Morgan, held a Slam Poetry Event for one of our Teen Nights! 

Participants in the event spent the evening exploring the myriad of ways in which poetry has inspired movements for change, from the Harlem Renaissance in the United States to Negritude in France. 

Teens then had the opportunity to create and perform their own pieces in front of their peers!

Slam Poetry,  a form of performance poetry that combines the elements of performance, writing, competition, and audience participation, is often referred to as a cultural weapon.  While often criticized as simplistic or lacking merit, for decades, spoken word poetry has been a powerful tool of expression and activism, especially for those within the Black community. Recalling great poets such as Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, or Maya Angelou, it is easy to see how their poems translated into movements like the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement in the 1920s. The Harlem Renaissance later inspired the Negritude Movement in France, as a protest against French colonial rule. Even later, in the 1960s, activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X used elements of performance poetry to communicate their dreams, their ideas, and to galvanize a fight for a better future. Think of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which utilizes the repetition, wordplay, and a focus on phonaesthetics that is often characterized in spoken word poetry. In a sense, performance poetry helped lay the groundwork for Black expression.

Today, slam poetry is an artistic movement performed and strengthened by communities of all races, in countries from the United States, to Canada, to Europe and Japan. Slam poets continue to influence modern culture, from political and social movements, to art, entertainment, and literature. 

During our Teen Night Poetry Slam event, participants listened to performances by Tonya Ingram, Chris Loos, Solli Raphael and Aiya Meilani, who ranged from 12 to 19 years old and spoke on topics from climate change and racism, to coping with ADHD. Teens then discussed with one another the impacts each performance had on them, analyzing the different tools and techniques used to convey the artist’s chosen message.

With these ideas in mind, teens then went to work on their own slam poems. With the opportunity to perform their work, students reflected on how it felt to stand before an audience and speak their truth. For some, it came more easily, while others found they enjoyed more visual representations of their thoughts. Either way, it is clear that our teen Library members are passionate and eager to dive into new and challenging methods of creativity. So keep creating, dreaming and inspiring – through whatever form of expression you choose!