Allison Broeren talks about poetry, SlamMN!'s new season

Allison Broeren

Allison Broeren

Allison Broeren got involved in slam poetry when she moved to the Twin Cities after attending Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She came from a competitive-speech background, so slam poetry seemed like a great way to keep performing. We recently took a moment to chat with Broeren, who became slam master of SlamMN! in 2006, about the team and the local slam scene via email.

What makes SlamMN! different from other slams locally and nationally?

One of the things that makes it unique is that it is the longest running slam in Minnesota. It's been around since 1994 at Kieran's Irish Pub. It's also home to some of the best spoken word in the country. I would go so far to say that the Minnesota poetry slam teams are the most success sports franchise in Minnesota. 

What was that?

We are way more successful than the Twins, Vikings, Gophers, and so forth.

[jump] Aha. Continue.

Cole Sarar

Cole Sarar

On the college level, we have the current college national champions (Macalester), fourth place in the country (U of M), and the ninth in the country (Hamline). After nationals this year, Minneapolis's SlamMN! is ranked sixth in the country and was ranked first going into semi-finals. St. Paul is in the top 20 this year, and was the national champion the last two years. A lot of great poets arrive for our stage.

Another thing that separates SlamMN! from others is our annual Erotica Slam on Valentine's Day. We are actually adding another Erotica Slam the Saturday before V-Day because we had to turn hundreds of people down for reservations. 

Can you give us a rundown of how last season went? What were the major success stories?
Last season was a big adjustment for me because it was my first season running the slam entirely by myself after my co-slam master moved out of state. So, I survived. Yay!

Actually, last season was really successful. It was our first full season at Kieran's new location, and our fans and performers settled in a little more. 

How is it different performing at the new location?

The biggest thing was that the room felt too fancy for us poets. They actually have two back rooms now, the new Titanic Lounge and a room called the Poet's Corner (named for us). We also have to deal with a lot of Twins fans, which causes a lot of us nerdy poets to have flashbacks to getting picked on by jocks in high school. The new location is beautiful. Parking is a little more challenging, but it hasn't hurt our audiences. 

What was your biggest success last season?

Our biggest success was how well our team did at the National Poetry Slam in Boston in August. It's the highest ranked a SlamMN! team has ever been. 

Other successes?

Another success was that I, along with SlamMN!, was awarded the bid for the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam. Minneapolis will be the host city for 80 women poets from all over the world in March 2013 and we're beyond excited to welcome them with open arms.
Do you think women and men have different slam styles?

That's a huge question. Slam can sometimes be dominated by men. There are a million reasons why this could be: judges fall for a male showing emotion harder than from a female, which is more expected; they can be louder- and deeper-voiced, which can give them an edge; they just enjoy competing more than women. I don't know if I believe any is completely true or explains the differences though. We have really successful men and women in the SlamMN! scene.

On a national level, the Women of the World tournament was created to encourage more women's voices since there was a trend of men dominating at the national indie tournaments. In the cities, our All Women's Slam was started to create a home for more diversity in women's voice. 

How diverse is the slam scene?

We are always welcome to diversity at the slams. Part of the thing that can build a lot of diversity is that anybody can enter, so we have people coming from academic, page poetry, performance arts, hip hop, and lots of other areas. We're starting to see a wider age variety come out to our shows, too. We have some exciting ideas that involve working with some different organizations that should bring new audience and competitors from different scenes. The Twin Cities is so diverse in opportunity that there are a lot of little nooks and corners we need to keep recruiting from. 

Any other new developments?

Phil from Moksha Hot Yoga in Minneapolis offered to be one of our sponsors and is awarding prize money to our poets again. We lost some of our funding a couple years ago when the economy tanked, so it'll be great to reward poets more. First place will get $100, second place $60, and third place $40 at our regular season qualifiers. 

What was the drop in funding?

Kieran's has always been our main sponsor; they used to provide us not only a venue but a paycheck and prize money. They are still our main sponsor, but we had to cut out money a couple years ago, so we're glad to have a new co-sponsor.

How many people typically participate in these events? 

We generally cap our competitors at 12. In slam poetry there are three rounds, so we'll go something like all 12 first round, top eight highest scoring in second round, and top three highest scored in third round. If you place in the top three, you qualify for our semi-final bouts in November and April. If you place in the top six of those, you qualify for our National Team Selection Slam in May. 

Beyond the competitors, each slam needs five volunteer judges to assign numbers to peoples' hearts and souls. Without the judges, the slam is just a bunch of schmucks saying words. The judges are key. 

Who are some of the returning poets? Can you say something about them? 

Most of the poets that people love to watch will be returning this year. Michael Lee, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Dylan Garity, and Neil Hilborn are our returning national team, and they will be coming back with a vengeance after all the hard work they've done this summer.

I'm excited to see some more funny work by poets like Spencer Retelle and Kristie Canchiidae. Rumor has it some of the older poets might be coming out of retirement to compete for cash and show these youngsters what's up. So I think it'll be a really exciting year. What I love about slam is that you never know who might walk in off the street and change your life. There's always so much possibility. 

Do you do non-competitive poetry as well? What are the
 advantages/disadvantages of each?  

Absolutely! In fact, I have come to a place where I do more non-competitive poetry and storytelling than competitive. Both have many advantages and disadvantages. In slam, you are dealing with having to conform to a time limit, which can be limiting. You also have to worry about the strategic strengths and weaknesses your pieces have. You may have a piece you love, but for whatever reason it doesn't score high usually, so then you get stuck performing something that is a safer bet. You can get stuck trying to write to sound like the people that do well at slam and lose your own voice.  As the saying goes: "The best poet never wins." And there is a lot of truth to that. 

There are a lot of pros to slam too though. It's a gimmick that gets the audience excited to watch poetry. It involves the audience; asking them to participate, judge, cheer, boo, and do a bunch of other stuff Midwestern audiences don't find natural. Having slam be so popular throughout the country gives a lot of poets opportunities to compete on regional and national levels with each other, and it has a strong community that supports you all over the world. A lot of our poets are able to do tours around the country. There aren't many ways to be a professional poet, but slam opens a lot more doors. It also challenges you to really hone your craft. 

If people ever want a chance to do non-competitive readings at Kieran's, we host an open mic called Word Ninjas the second Tuesday of each month. There, you have seven minutes to do whatever you want, and we just judge on the inside, not on score paddles.

Anything special we should look forward to in this first event?

The season opener will be a great time to see poets from all three national teams really show up and show who is ready for this next season. It's the first chance to qualify for semis, so you'll see those poets who want to get it done early. Hopefully you'll see something new. It'll be a great time to settle in and say you were there from the start. 

Poetry SlamMN Celebrates its season kickoff on Tuesday, August 30 from 8-11 p.m. at Kieran's Irish Pub. Doors open at 7 p.m. with 7:30 p.m. sign-up. Tickets are $5.