Brutally honest words, a few minutes of bravery, semi-darkness and a cheering audience – these are some of the things which define the atmosphere of slam poetry event. In this medium, the performer and the audience depend on each other, however, it is up to the performer to what extent he lets the listener to enter his world. When slam poetry champion André Ferenc is on the stage, despite the shaking and the sweating of his body, he pauses for an effect and lets the audience become a part of his world and he invites them to a journey. He is not afraid of words, or of highlighting the things considered to be out of order, which people mastered to hide.
Slam poetry was born in the 1980s. However, it was only in the ‘90s when it became a distinguished art form. Marc Kelly Smith, a Chicago poet, also known as the “slampapi”, believed that poetry has to live in a form and medium through which it can connect with people more easily. Thus, places such as coffee shops have become the hosts of spoken word poetry. These kind of spots allow the performer, the text and the audience to create an intimate connection.
Slam poems have a short life span. Each text is only relevant in the specific context in which it is performed. André Ferenc says that slam poetry “is an event, a rhetorical situation, it doesn’t exist in print or in any written form. Its purpose is something like Plato’s psychagogia, a gesture that writes and rewrites the patterns in the listener’s mind. It is not meant to entertain, it’s meant to generate thinking and to introduce new perspectives of the world around us.” Also, he added that “Slam poetry does not want to address the next centuries, it does not want to be eternal, it exists only here and now, in the specific relation between a given audience and a slam poet.”
Slam poets tend to be sensitive to the political and social issues, therefore it is needless to say that they do not avoid addressing these kind of problems. André Ferenc says that his favorite topics to put into words are the issues which concern those who socialized after 1989, those who grew up in the ‘90s. These problems are family issues, the feeling of decadence, isolation and how this generation is blocked by the freedom they are given. He says that “I try to insert in my slam poems the glimpse of hope, that we aren’t screwed up, it is just a situation we are in, with all the problems and difficulties, frustrations and regressions, our generation isn’t good nor bad, we are just like anyone else, all of us are beautiful in our messed up ways.”
To present these issues authentically, one requires the ability to be empathic. A successful performance is when the audience is capable to understand this empathy – slam poetry has to trigger an emotional response from the listeners. However, the reaction of the audience has the power to define the whole atmosphere of the performance, to stimulate, and to bring out more emotion of the performer. André says that his performance relies really much on the reaction of the audience, the more interest they show, the more honesty and emotion he is capable to put into his speech. Therefore, in spoken word poetry the performer and the audience are both equally important.
In order to transmit their understandings of the world, slam poets aggregate multiple artists in themselves. That is to say, they know how to play with rhythm and rhyme, when to whisper or to shout, when to move or stay still. They become art themselves. Besides this, they are human and that brings them closer to us, the audience.
André Ferenc described his experiences on the stage as follows: “After 40-50 or maybe more performances, I still have anxiety, even if I have to perform on a small stage, without a huge pressure on me.” Also, he said that “Slam poetry doesn’t end on the stage, it is a way of life, a quest to connect with as many people as possible, to learn from them and inspire them if you can.”
photos: Andre Ferenc’s personal archive