Slam poetry, rowdy and growing

The forces behind the local competitive-performance poetry scene

Broeren is ambitious about the future of slam in Minnesota. "We'd like to sell out theaters, to be one of the premier events that people are excited to come out to," she says.

48th Street Slam
Pepito's Parkway Theater, Minneapolis, third Sunday of every month

Dave Crady goes by the tongue-in cheek stage name Wonder Dave. His poetry combines sarcasm and sincerity with the touch of a painter mixing colors, as he tackles topics from queer issues to the joys of nerd sex. Crady co-hosted SlamMN with Broeren for two years and was a member of that slam's nationals team this year, but in August he split off to become slam master of the 48th Street Slam.

Matthew Rucker
Mark Beshey
Matthew Rucker

48th Street's venue, the Parkway Theater, doubles the seating capacity of its sister slams (and boasts 20 decadent leather couches near the stage). "It's more of a spectacle here because we have a big stage, and we have music between poets, which adds to the atmosphere." Crady says. "And for poets, the theater forces you to be bigger. You have more space to fill. You have to bring it."

"Poetry slam is judged by five randomly selected schmucks," Crady laughs. "Getting scored is challenging and scary sometimes, but it's nice to know what people think of you, like, 'Oh, this person thinks my poem is an 8.2.' If people are scared, they should just come and do it."

"We have a really diverse slam scene, stylistically speaking," Crady says. "I would love to see it be more diverse than it is in every way—a bigger age range and more cultural diversity. And I think that's going to happen, it's a natural evolution."

He loved competing in nationals. "You're facing off against a wider variety of people. Everything seems really heightened at nationals. You have to step up your game. I was like, 'I need to nail this poem and leave everything on the stage and tear my guts out.' We rocked our poems."

Soapboxing Poetry Slam
The Artists' Quarter, St. Paul, first Monday of every month

Soapboxing Poetry Slam makes its home in the dark, subterranean jazz club the Artists' Quarter. With its two-drink minimum, it's the booziest slam in the Cities, and crowds tend to be even more boisterous than normal for slam. But Soapboxing has a reputation as a veterans' stage, where the best poets come to square off.

That reputation can be intimidating to newcomers. "We're working on that," says Soapboxing's slam master, Matthew Rucker. "I want to bring a lot more variety to the stage. But because I do care about quality, we're starting workshops for beginners through intermediate to teach them to come out confidently."

He says his own slam debut six years ago was simultaneously "a good and horrible first experience. I was doing fantastically until two stanzas away from the end, I couldn't remember another word. I didn't know the protocol was just to leave the stage, so I stood there trying to remember the lines. I would have gone to the next round but I got a massive time penalty."

Rucker doesn't try to hide his pride in slam poetry as an art form. "There are very many 'purists' that think that the only true poetry is classical poetry. But poetry was an oral tradition that got stolen by academia. In a sense, slam is more legitimate than what they do. And the fact that you're going to be judged forces the poet to get better. Slam poetry will almost always be better than most spoken word."

He coached Soapboxing's national team to a semifinal finish this year. "When they got onstage, they pulled out the magic. I just sat there with my jaw on the floor going, 'Oh, my God, this is beautiful,'" he says. "But for some reason a lot of scenes don't see us as a threat until we just cream them in competition. I want them to fear us just as much as they fear some of the New York and Bay Area slams."

"I see Minnesota really, really staking its claim on the national scene as a powerhouse," Rucker says. "The Twin Cities are right up there with the best slam scenes in the country."


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