Don't expect to hear a lot of "roses are red, violets are blue" at the Copper State Poetry Slam this weekend. There's a time and a place for childlike rhyming, but this Southwest slam competition isn't it.
"[It's] designed for teams of poets to have the opportunity of presenting group poems, involving more than one poet," says event director Jeremiah Blue. "[We wanted] to offer a venue for poets from all over the state to interact with other artists, as well as compete."
Nearly 40 aspiring and professional poets, both youths and adults, will compete on teams of four or five people each. Judges are randomly selected audience members who will score the performances on a 0.0 to 10.0 point scale. Preliminary competition begins Saturday evening at 7 p.m. with the final head-to-head starting at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Blue says the slam sold more than 200 tickets to last year's throw down, nearly selling out the second installment of the annual event. While there are plenty of slams Valley- and statewide, he says, Copper State is unique in that it features all of the top talent on a single stage. And that, he explains, is what everyone from audience members to professional poets wants to see.
"Poets love the chance to perform on a large, theater stage [and] compete at a high level against some poets they may have never met before," he continues. "Audience members have a chance to be exposed to poets and performances that are entirely new and different from their more regular exposure to local talent."
Much like this year's schedule, last summer's festival included workshops on publishing and poetry as well as two nights of competition. Unlike last year, Blue says, interest in the medium has grown -- both from spectators and interested performers. Publicized workshops and community spoken word nights at places like Lawn Gnome Publishing have helped nurture the culture, which Blue says "offers a greater level of diversity of performers and performances, and a higher level of competition."
Slam poetry gained new momentum in the 1990s after rising to popularity thanks to the Beat Generation of the 1950s and '60s. A slam is simply a competition of spoken original work, blending poetry with performance to create a high-energy oral art form.
For those who'd rather watch and/or judge than perform themselves, the slam has partenered with sponsors like First Friday Night Live, Infuse Open Mic, and Four Chambers Press to present "side events." These intros and asides include a publishing workshop by Four Chambers and Lawn Gnome, a Nerd Slam hosted by The Klute, and a haiku battle led by Joy Young and Rowie Shebala. Not only does the public get to foster their own poetic side, Blue explains, but they also get to interact with the participating artists and, in some cases, learn alongside them. It's a way to ensure that an art form that's not dead, just hidden, stays alive and well.
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"Poetry does get overlooked in terms of mainstream exposure," Blue says. "You don't necessarily see poets with the same kind of exposure as musicians or actors, and rarely having access to lucrative financial careers as poets or performers.
"But there is certainly plenty of respect for the art, and the growing level of exposure that spoken word has seen in recent years is certainly encouraging and exciting for all artists that would like to make a full-time living off their art, or at least have more opportunities to reach a wider audience."
Doors open at 4 p.m. both Saturday, July 26, and Sunday, July 27, at Playhouse on the Park by Phoenix Theatre, 1850 North Central Avenue. Bouts begin at 7 and 8:45 p.m. Saturday; the final round starts at 6 p.m. on Sunday. Festival passes are $20, daily passes are $10 for Saturday and $12 for Sunday when purchased in advance. Student discounts are available. Call 602-254-2151 or visit www.phoenixtheatre.com for tickets. Visit www.copperstatepoetryslam.com for more information.