Slammin' in Minnesota
Left to right: Just Riley, Allison, Wonder Dave, Lorena, and Rhe / Photo by Heather Polisen
As anyone who watches the news, follows PR, or is raising a teenager can tell you, wars can be fought with words. This Sunday at the Nomad, well-conditioned teams who have been training all year will use words for another type of battle at the Big Slam. It will also serve as a practice slam before teams head down to Austin, TX for a national competition. City Pages took a moment to chat with SlamMN’s co-slam master Dave Crady, aka Wonder Dave about the slam scene.
City Pages: So how did you first get started in the MN slam poetry scene?
Dave Crady: I started about a year after I moved here from Lacrosse, WI. I went to a couple slams, I really enjoyed it, and I started slamming. I really liked the format and the openness of it. I liked the competitive aspect of it. A lot of people involved are into competitive writing as well. I liked the idea that I could get up on stage and do and say whatever I want, essentially.
CP: Has the scene changed/grown since you first happened upon it?
DC: Oh yeah, definitely. When I first began, I was youngest person doing it. Most of the poets were older then. A lot of older performers have moved on to other endeavors—Dessa for example, and Cynthia French, who is roller derbying now.
CP: How do you prepare for a slam night?
DC: I rock myself out before shows—Pat Benetar, Heart's "Barracuda." Other people have all sorts of weird rituals. A lot of it is just getting your stuff down. I'm a nervous performer, so I read it again and again and time myself to make sure I am good to go.
CP: What do you feel are some things that make for a great performance? What excites a crowd?
DC: I think it's really important to be able to go on stage and establish yourself—to dominate and own that room. That's an important skill. The first time, you won't know how to though. Some think it's about being loud, but it's not.
CP: Can you tell me about the best performance you ever witnessed?
CP: I've seen so much slam in so many different places. This one woman did a piece titled, "If I Was Any Smaller I'd Be a Bigger Freak." She wrote a line that really grabbed my attention, "If I were any smaller, I would walk around topless. And if the cops pulled me over, I would say it's perfectly legal, I'm breastfeeding. And if they asked who I was breast feeding, I would say, anyone who's hungry.” There's another performer who break dances when slamming. It's amazing. Some people just look and gesture, and they dominate. It's very much about presence.
CP: What about the worst performance you've ever witnessed?
DC: There are people that just don't understand how loud you need to be. You need to be at a certain volume. You need to understand how sound works in a room. Everyone needs to hear you. It's not that you can't be quiet, but you have to know the space you're in really well and how to use it. Going off paper too soon is harsh.
CP: Slam poetry sometimes receives harsh criticism from certain academic poetry circles. Why do you think that some members of the poetry community would be against slam poetry?
DC: I think there is a concept that slam poetry is stage poetry. I regular poets aren't necessarily performers, and that irks them.
CP: How do you feel that slam poetry contributes to the poetry community? What about music, hip hop, and rap communities? Theater?
DC: There's so much crossover in all of those things. I had Carol Connelly come to a show, and she was really well received, and she isn't a slam poet. I myself am an actor as well. I do improv. There are hip hop artists that also do slam. Some academics are slam poets as well. We just did a dead poets slam, and that worked really well. There are also academics who love slam poets. Some things succeed on stage that wouldn't on page.
CP: Is there a stigma to slam poetry?
DC: Sometimes I think there's a stigma, but that's changing. Slam is turning 21! It's much more accepted. Academia tends to cry out for diversity which is hard to find in that circle. Slam, is incredibly diverse. I didn't finish college—I fit in fine. Slam has college students, artists, and so on—it's incredibly diverse.
See SlamMN compete against Minnesota Spoken Word Association, Soap Boxing, and Spoken Word University this Sunday. 21+. $5. 7:00 p.m. For more info call 612.207.7991. 501 Cedar Ave. S. (at Riverside Ave), Minneapolis; 612.338.6424.