Slam Poetry: Not Your Mama’s Nursery Rhymes

CHS journalist visits a poetry slam to better understand the art.


Photo Courtesy of Daniel Lobo

The inside of the Mercury Cafe features an enchanting blend of decor.

When poetry is mentioned, one may think of Shakespeare or Edgar Allan Poe, ancient works with flowery language nobody quite understands. Irrelevant. A dying art, pressed to the back shelves of used bookstores.

Though classic poetry is fading to the periphery of the art scene, a new form of poetry is taking the stage. Slam poetry.

This prose exclusively consists of spoken verse and is fast, packed with emotion, and eye catching, a reflection of the world today. However, I felt as if I could not truly understand the art when my only experience with it was confined to youtube videos. So, I typed “Slam poetry night” into my phone, clicked on the first result, and was off.

In the center of Denver, nestled between soup kitchens and apartment buildings lies a restaurant, the words “Mercury Cafe” cast the street below in blue neon light. Every Sunday this restaurant hosts a poetry slam and is one of the very few places to do so in Denver.

When I arrived It was dark outside, the few street lights far and few between. The building was draped haphazardly with red and yellow christmas lights, crumbling brickwork making the entire structure seem eerie. As I stepped inside, however, it was hard not to gasp in awe. Dim lighting, red walls, and a ceiling glittering with string lights. The hectic sounds of a city street were replaced with quiet music and the laughter of restaurant patrons.

I took a seat, and the evening began. For the first hour there was an open mic, free to poets of all experience levels. High schoolers were followed by grandparents, vastly different life experiences shared only minutes from one another, each met with applause and compassion.

Before long the slam itself began. 8 poets had three minutes each to perform. If they went over this time limit points were deducted from their score. Three audience members were given scorecards and rated each performance out of 10 points. The scores were added and the players with the highest score out of 30 got to move on to the next round. Half of the competitors are eliminated each round: The first round has 8 competitors, the second has 4, and the third has 2.

These poets are from all walks of life but their pieces have one thing in common- emotion. In front of a room of strangers they admit their deepest fears and greatest triumphs, the unfiltered words dripping with raw passion. A rape victm shares her story, eyes brimming with angry tears. A teacher talks about his life teaching at a school with very low socio-economic status, the love for his students and need to be a role model for them overpowering. A woman chuckles as she recalls her struggle with OCD, something that makes even grocery shopping difficult.

In three minutes I learned more about these strangers than I know about peers I have shared a classroom with since elementary school. It is impossible to convey the power of this experience through words on a page, but I can say this- a poetry slam is an experience like no other. Attending a slam should be on everyone’s bucket list.




Photo Credit- Daniel Lobo ( )