AS: The main reason I do slam is as an empowering thing. Just leaving it there and not having to carry it.
NR: I’m Noah Raaum, and today, junior Anna Snider, a student poet, joins us to share her experience with slam poetry. Anna performed recently at the regional TruArtSpeaks Slam Poetry competition and earned a spot at the National Brave New Voices Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. Anna is going to start off this podcast by sharing her winning poem.
AS: I like to imagine the year that we were together as an ice age, one where nothing grew, where the earth was frozen for miles underground. They say that your body can go into survival mode. Where you bring goes on autopilot and its only goal is to get you through the famine. I don’t think that my body has outgrown this. Once I stood out in the snow for over an hour, waited for the coldness to seep through my socks to my skin. When I was little, I learned to swallow pills by washing down little pieces of ice,and ten years later and still coughing up cold shards. My therapist asks me where I feel the sadness and I tell him that there is a snow bank sitting on my chest. He reminds me that the storm has been over for two years eight months and 13 days. But I heard that the last ice age ended over eleven 11,000 years ago. And look at the stories that we still tell about it. I wonder if the Earth has forgotten about the freezing, about the way that nothing could grow for thousands of years. The ice carved rivers in the dirt when it melted, the oceans rose and rose and rose as water from the glaciers flooded the seas.
AS: I hear that in some places the ground is still rising after the weight was lifted off of it. The landscape tells a story. I have not felt my toes since the storm. By storm I mean you and by toes I mean anything. And when the doctor asks me about the starving I tell her that this ground has never been soft enough to cradle a living thing. Never firm enough to levy me against a flood. I don’t know how to love the uncertain soil that this body has sprouted from or how to stop coughing up ice cubes but I want to write a poem about something other than brokenness, and so, I put lotion in my hands when the cold cracks them open. I laugh until the feeling in my cheeks comes back with the tingle I write until there is a crack in the ice. The most incredible thing about ice ages is how the ground is still the ground even when it is frozen. How the Earth can read learn the art of growing no matter how long it has been covered with ice.
NR: So, what is slam poetry?
AS: Poetry that’s written to be performed, but really like what a poetry slam is is that it’s a certain number of poets usually 12 to 20 going up and performing for anywhere from 3 minutes to 3 minutes 30 seconds in front of an audience and a panel of judges and then the judges give a score. Sometimes about half of the people move on to the second round. There are more rounds and it just doing those people down until it gets to be two people. And then one person wins.
NR: So how much time did it take you to get to this point in terms of your development as a poet?
AS: So I started slam in freshman year so this is my third year doing it. Freshman year I got to finals, last year I didn’t make it through preliminary. This year I made it through finals and won. But each poem takes hours and hours of writing and then hours and hours of practicing and performing.
NR: Performing in front of a massive crowd is terrifying. Would you say you’re particularly confident?
AS: No. The opposite actually. I am terrified of speaking in front of anyone and I freeze up, stumble over my words, as I am now, but the special thing about slam and about poetry is you go up there and you know what you want to say. You spent a bunch of time coming up with the best way that you can possibly describe your experiences so it’s fine-tuned like you know how to do it and you feel confident in that. So it’s like, then it feels like a way to communicate that with people. So it’s not like you’re just making it up on the spot. It’s just a platform to say what you actually want to say without all of the anxiety of a conversation.
NR: So admittedly, slam poetry is kind of a subjective competition in terms of the judging. How much would you say has to do with the poem itself and how much is with the execution?
AS: It really depends. I think as you get more and more advanced, it’s pretty equal. At the beginning, you can kind of get away with either having your performance be really good and your poem not being so good or your poem being really good but not performing it very well. But yeah, it really it’s so subjective. Like, this year I didn’t make it through one preliminary round that I did but then I made it through the next one and I made it through semi-finals and finals so you never know what’s going to happen.
NR: And then, I kind of think of slam poetry as saying really bold things with a really clear voice as loud as you can, kind of screaming – that doesn’t really sound like it’s the case, so why do you think they call it slam poetry?
AS: I think it’s just the format of it, like, kind of the rules. And also the thing about slam, slam and spoken word started out as rap and hip hop. So it’s like very rooted in that. So it has that kind of connotation and it kind of it did start from places like going and just like yelling things like really loudly but it has kind of changed a little bit.
NR: So I’m guessing only some of the poems you write are meant to be performed for a crowd of hundreds of people. Would you say that the poems that you don’t perform are maybe more personal?
AS: I wouldn’t say they’re more personal. I would say that they are kind of earlier versions of the poems that I would then perform. Because, I mean I write as a way to work through everything that’s happened in my life and heal from things and understand. So it takes a lot of writing drafts that are just for myself in order to get it to a place where I can go up and talk about it on a stage in front of hundreds of people.
NR: So from what I’m hearing, slam poetry has kind of like a therapeutic or a healing element. Is that the main reason you do it?
AS: Yeah. The main reason I write poetry is for that healing element. The main reason I do slam is as an empowering thing. So it’s just a different type of healing and it feels like when I do slam and when I perform it and it’s at a place where I feel like I can then I can finally move on from whatever it was. So it’s like just leaving it there and not having to carry it.
NR: What is the biggest challenge for you. Been so far in the poetry slam competitions?
AS: Probably just the anxiety of getting up in front of a bunch of people. And it’s just like, I love going to slams. It’s one of my favorite things. And also it takes a lot of emotional energy because people or a lot of people are getting up and talking about really heavy things. So it’s – yeah, it’s just a lot emotionally. Even if you’re there to perform, to be there and actually be present like, it’s hard, so probably that.
NR: And then I wanted to ask you about your poetry style. Would you call yourself a traditional poet, a new poet, or something in between, or something different?
AS: Not a traditional poet just because when I think of traditional poet, I think of like, Robert Frost?
NR: Are you a fan of Robert Frost in any way?
AS: Not – no? I feel like I would have been but, when we started learning about learning about poetry in school I hated poetry. I just hated it. It was the worst. And it wasn’t until I learned about it on my own and learned about slam and learned about spoken word that I actually rediscovered my love for poetry because it’s so – I feel like with traditional poets are so there’s so many rules and it feels like poetry has kind of always been a place for marginalized groups of people to go and have a voice and to talk when they can’t other places. And so that then to like put more confinements on that and to say that like you’re poetry isn’t good unless it is a sonnet. I didn’t like that. So I would say I’m not a traditional poet.
NR: Okay, so this is my last official question: why do you think you did so well in your most recent slam competition?
AS: I think kind of a combination of things. One is again just the subjectiveness of judges. Like, there are a lot of people, there are people from different preliminary rounds who are incredible poets but didn’t make it to semifinals or didn’t make it to finals. So there’s that – just kind of the randomness of it. And then also to give myself more credit, I’ve been writing for a long time and I’ve been doing slam for a long time. I think I’ve now performed in 10 slams plus like open mics and workshops. So,I have that experience. And this year my goal, the goal that was driving it, was just to give everything that I had when I got on stage and it doesn’t mean that I have to win but it’s like performing it in a way that feels authentic. And I think that people saw that.
NR: And do you have one more short poem that you can perform right now to end the podcast?
AS: Can you love someone too much? Can you love the sanity out of a person? I used to think I was lucky. Look at how beautiful these walls are. I decorated them all by myself. My love, a beautiful cage is still a cage. Tell me, what does love look like? It’s a six hour phone calls middle of the night? Is it finishing each other’s your love is too thick? He loves like syrup too sweet and thick to stomach but Lord I tried. And love is or it ain’t, thin love ain’t love at all, and I am still sick. And there is syrup in my throat and lines of the beautiful, beautiful cage pressed into my skin and isn’t this love? Isn’t this what we are taught? Isn’t it? Love should not break you.
NR: That was student poet Anna Snider. Wish her luck at her upcoming competition in Las Vegas Nevada where she will compete against the best student poets in the nation. Thank you for joining us.