“This can’t be workshopped…it’s a slam poem.” I’ll never forget the moment that phrase was uttered in a graduate school workshop. When a poet is most well known for elevating a piece of writing off the page, lifting it into their bodies and declaiming with all the emotion that drove the creation of the poem in the first place, many audiences have been taught to believe that work is no longer poetry. Now that the piece is memorized, it is a rant, a monologue; it becomes delivered instead of deliverance. The term “Slam” is a politicized and polarizing one.
What interested me about guest co-editing this issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly was to complicate and muddy the expectation that many people have of poets who slam/have slammed. I was honored to give a first opportunity to poets who have been too afraid to submit to journals because they’ve been told their “slam poems” are not publishable, and to provide a space for poets who have successfully published and won literary awards to remind the world they cut their teeth in slam.
This issue pays homage to the spirit of poetic embodiment. This issue is a celebration. This issue is an invitation to sit and snap in the confines of your bedroom. This issue requests you read the poems out loud, and nod your head, and Yasss! and gasp when the words sucker punch you. So you can call this the “Slam Issue.” Because all the poets within it have participated in competition. However, you will find there is no adherence to any one kind of poem. The incomparable poet Angel Nafis said it best in a Facebook status post when she wrote: “Anyway, you can call me spoken word or hip hop or whatever the fuck makes you feel better about the fact that no one falls asleep when I read my poems.” (***snaps***)
The only irrefutable fact that binds all of these poets, besides all having competed in the DC/MD/VA region at one point in time, is that you won’t fall asleep while reading their work.
This issue makes space for some of the most captivating poets the DC, Baltimore, and Richmond metropolitan areas have ever seen: from the city-wide youth slam team members to national slam champions. From DMV Louder Than a Bomb teen competitors to the originators of the slam scene in this region. The poets included represent 23 years of slam in the area — from 1993 through 2016.
Slam does not allow for the experience to be solitary. It demands that the audience participate, be present, and take ownership of the fact that their instinctual love or hate of a poem matters. So, you are welcome here. In fact, you, dear reader, are absolutely necessary here. Because ultimately, we couldn’t have a slam –or in this case, a slam issue– without you.
See also: “DC Slam History” by Regie Cabico, from the Splendid Wake Issue, Fall 2014.
Elizabeth Acevedo holds a BA in Performing Arts from The George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion as well as a Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer's Workshop. She is the author of two poetry collections: her first full-length collection and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra's Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming) and her chapbook, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (Yes Yes Books, 2016).