My very first poetry slam I wore my hippest ripped jeans and a shaky smile too big for my scared shitless face-I was dressed to impress.
In the very last round a judge in a black hat and jeans gave me a 6.2.
I went home that night... glowing, beaming, pumping with adrenaline, knowing that I could improve, that I could grow up to be something more, something great, something powerful, that one day, if I worked really hard, I might be a poet.
I stand here now, three years and three notebooks full of sloppy metaphors later in front of five judges who would call me a poet before they've heard me speak a word.
Slam Poetry was started in the late 1990's by an entrepreneur named Russell Simmons. He was tired of going to boring poetry readings where nobody was screaming, "If I wanted monotone," he said "I would read a book." He assigned five random judges in the audience to give the poems scores on a scale from 8-10
We stand here now in front of five judges who would not have given us the courtesy of that 6.2, who would have sent us home feeling like we had no further to go, like we had accomplished all we could, like that scared shitless smile was the best we could be.
Judges, give this poem a seven.
Last summer I learned on Chicago Public Radio that this scoring system is not a coincidence of kindness but a mandate, an eight-point minimum designed to keep us safe, to keep us happy, to keep our fragile egos from shattering under the weight of honesty. How could we allow this kind of blatant exploitation?
As if we didn't all have to slam with a ten-point range to get here,
as if we are children, as if the only way to empower us is to coddle us, don't tell me I need the encouragement.
A pen doesn't make you a poet anymore than running red lights on your fixie bike makes you an anarchist. Don't boo scores higher than a 9.2-blind applause is meant for open mic night. My self worth does not depend on the scores I get.
Judges, stand up and give this poem a seven.
I am 18 years old. Of legal age to drive, to vote, to smoke my lungs black, to cradle an automatic weapon, deadly, with bullets flinging from fingers but I can't handle mediocre score in a poetry slam?
Respect should not have an age limit. We don't need this. I know that I'm not flawless, we have all written shitty poems and it's okay. Through practice comes glory.
We have given hours, given passion given our words we can handle your criticism. We've worked hard for these scores, it's okay to want to win when you've given so much. Competition and community can coexist. Not all contest is ruthless.
Since when did brave become synonymous with loud?
Judges, I dare you to give this poem a seven.
Make a difference that will outlive this bout. Three minutes and thirty seconds of sincerity, there are 500 young people in this competition. That is one thousand seven hundred and fifty minutes of poetry that you devalue in the name of sympathy. I would rather have your respect than your applause. If you weren't cheering so loud you would hear the point behind the poetry.
When we spit revolution what are we really changing?
You thought you could resist the norm with every word you wrote
You can rock the mic but it won't rock the boat.
Poetry at its best changes things-changes people, changes laws, changes minds.
Judges give this poem a seven and give these words weight. You will ensure that thousands of young people in years to come will go home...glowing, pumping, knowing that one day, if they work really, really hard,
they might become legends.