It’s poetry. It’s burlesque. It’s comedy. It’s a group of well-spoken individuals touting their talents as performers while showing off their skills as modern-day literary masters. It’s the 2012 Individual World Poetry Slam, and it’s happening in Fayetteville from Oct. 3 through Oct. 6.
In recent years, poetry has taken a turn for the entertaining. With individuals realizing that words can be more fun when spoken aloud by their writer and with the enthusiasm that probably only they can provide.
Yes, there are the critics who call slam poetry “pop poetry” in a way that makes those who participate, like Fayetteville resident and IWPS PR guy Houston Hughes, feel on the fringe of literary class.
“You have people in the English industry who look down on poetry slams. Part of that is because it’s hard to get people exposed to the highest level of it — what a really, really good poetry slam is and what it can be when you work at it,” Hughes said.
So at the highest level it is individuals who have mastered the art of both poetry and performance. At a good festival, Hughes explained, the “performers” can make you laugh, cry or grit your teeth just like any other form of entertainment.
Hughes said in Fayetteville people are just beginning to learn about this phenomenon, while in other, larger cities he travels to there are whole communities and support systems in place for traveling poetry slammers.
“Once you go to enough events you begin to recognize 75 percent of the people. You know them, you hang out, you know their poems. As much as it’s a festival and competition, it’s a family reunion … We wanted to bring all of our friends here to Fayetteville,” Hughes said.
And it wasn’t an easy process. The local group of slam poets had to prove to the national organization that Fayetteville was a suitable location for hundreds of poets from across the country to travel to and perform in.
“About a year to a year-and-a-half [in advance], you have to submit a form that says ‘here’s why we’d be a good city,’ ‘here’s where we’re looking to have the poets stay.’ You have to prove you can bring in the people and put on a good show,” Hughes explained.
It may have put Fayetteville’s name on the Poetry Slam, Inc.’s map when Hughes made the final stage at the 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam. Since then he’s been traveling making his living solely off poetry slams and workshops, with a little help from his poetry slamming friends.
This year, slam goers can expect to see some of the best poets in the world, competing mic to mic, personality to personality and literary skills to … you get it. There will be poetry paired with burlesque, poems written for objects (or even humans, i.e. Snooki) that can’t write for themselves, poems about nerds, Ozark culture, a Haiku death match and even workshops to help individuals learn to publish their work or compete in poetry slams. Prices for tickets vary upon event, and a full festival pass is $70, or $60 with a student ID.