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2016/05/18

"Academic" VS "SLAM" VS "Underground"

"I am not a fan of when people judge poetry they judge it by merits of a different poetic style. You can't judge most paintings by their lyrical content. You can't judge most music by its brush strokes.

"That isn't to say there aren't some similarities between Slam, Academic, Underground etc (they are all poetry after all), but the intent is usually different.

"I think the only thing one can significantly judge ALL poetry on is how you "feel" about the piece." -- Azriel Johnson


To this a former professor replied:

"What are "slam," "academic," and "underground" poems...how are you defining these terms? I'm going to make the argument that there are some craft techniques that are universal to all of these styles of poetry, or make all of these styles of poetry stronger or weaker through their use or lack thereof."


I hate defining these terms because I don't see them like others do. If I were to define them (and by define, I mean how I perceive others' perceptions) I would do so thus:
          Please note nothing I say in these definitions is all inclusive. For example, I will say academic poets sound flat when performed, but this is not always true. These "definitions" as I write them are nebulous and purely of my own invention, which at best, makes them just as flawed as the writer.

"Academic" poetry is technically the most sound, more focused on meter, rhyme, or forms. When it is performed it sounds flat. This is likely because the reader is more concerned with the precise reading of the work instead of the emotional content found therein.

"SLAM" poetry is less technically sound, than "academic" poetry. The focus comes more in the rhythm of the piece as it is most certainly going to be read out loud. As it is read out loud there will be less focus on the conciseness of the words and more so with the emotional content behind them. 

"Underground" poetry is least focused on the structure of the words and more focus on how they sound or what thoughts/feelings they evoke. This is poetry associated with breaking rules or establishing new rules. There may be form play here, but it is more likely to be newly invented forms by the author.

The problem with establishing definitions is that no one's definition will be exactly like anyone else's. Instead of taking each poem at its own merits they are compared to other styles, forms, and/or writers. This comparison isn't inherently bad, but it becomes detrimental to poetry when the comparison becomes "THE gospel truth" and no other expression is sufficient unless they conform to the tenets set.

A Billy Collins poem isn't going to read like a Saul Williams poem isn't going to read like an exemplary local poet whom no one outside of their city has heard of. This doesn't mean any one else's poetry is going to be better or worse, just different. The feelings evoked by a piece are subjective, it is highly unlikely everyone is going to feel exactly the same way about a piece, but when people get trapped in their cycle of what is "good" and "bad" without considering something outside their sphere of taste poetry suffers.

I don't have a problem with reviewers. I think reviewers are necessary, but poets who receive a bad review should only take it as far as "this is one person's opinion, what does someone else think?" If a poem affects one person for better or worse then the poem is good. Even if it is bad.


*Note* Originally posted on the now defunct WKRoundtable.blogspot.com 04/22/13

Azriel Johnson is an inkspatter analyst and a serial writer by night. He runs a small, not money losing publishing press and a weekly open mic with monthly features called Writing Knights Press and Writing Knights: Stark.

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