Photo submitted by Anna Snider
In front of hundreds of people, one speaker reads the words they have written and watches as the audience takes it all in. This is a glimpse into the slam poetry experience. For junior Anna Snider, writing had always been something that drew her in quickly, but poetry, in particular, is where she found her passion.
“I fell in love with poetry in elementary school. However, as soon as we learned about poetry in school, I began to despise it. To me, writing poems had always been about finding the best way to explain what was happening in my brain. I found refuge in poetry because it was a space where I was allowed to fully show up in a space and talk about my experiences without being asked to leave out parts of my experiences in order to make the conversation school appropriate,” Snider said.
Snider had initially found slam poetry online and immediately became interested. But the performing was where Snider truly felt a connection. Snider describes the feeling of sharing her own writing in front of an audience as an experience unlike any other.
“I found slam poetry hidden in a corner of the internet I didn’t know existed and it soon became my life. Listening to slam poetry is an incredible experience in and of itself, but performing? That is a completely different experience. It is so healing to stand on stage in front of a crowd of people, spill the ugliest parts of yourself and feel the audience hold you,” Snider said.
Snider stays in tune with herself, listening to what is most important to her in the moment when she wants to write. Specifically writing about the things she experiences shame around gives her an opportunity to get rid of it.
“I write about any aspect of my life that is demanding my attention at that particular moment. When I write slam poetry, however, I write about the things that I have shame around. For me, writing about shame releases it,” Snider said.
Besides performing her own work, Snider has also learned a lot from the community that participating in slam poetry has brought her.
“I have learned so much about both systematic oppression as well as the importance of listening to and amplifying marginalized voices through the slam community,” Snider said.
Snider finds that poetry is a powerful tool to voice the things that are affecting certain people.
“Poetry — specifically spoken word poetry — has been used throughout history as a form of resistance to oppressive systems. Marginalized communities (especially people of color and LGBTQ+ folks) have used spoken word as a way to take their voices back and talk about the things that are actually affecting them,” Snider said.
Snider believes that many students could benefit from slam poetry and that it is a lot different than the expectation that many students may have of what a poetry slam is. It can benefit those who listen to poetry in many ways as it builds bravery and empathy.
“I think that most people would never consider going to a poetry slam because they think it’s a bunch of angsty teenagers reading dramatic monologues that also rhyme and are written in Shakespearean sonnets (no shade to those who do read dramatic Shakespearean sonnets though — you do you!). While I’m sure the stereotypical angsty rhyming teen is out there, I have never seen them at a poetry slam I have attended. Most poets are writing about their experiences with mental illness, oppression, hardships, and pain. Attending a slam and holding the weight of another person’s words and experiences requires a certain level of bravery because it requires empathy. I think we all need more empathy in our lives; slam is a good way to start,” Snider said.
This year will be Snider’s third time participating in the BeHeard Youth Poetry Slam. She plans on preparing more with open mics and writing conferences in order to prepare.
“I am participating in the BeHeard Youth Poetry Slam with TruArtSpeaks. I am connecting with other writers to get feedback on my work. This is my third year doing this specific slam series. When I was preparing for finals two years ago, I found that attending open mics and writing conferences were the best ways to prepare. As semi-finals come up I plan to dedicate much more time to poetry,” Snider said.
For more information on TruArtSpeaks or other slam poetry events in the Twin Cities, check out Guante’s page.