The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America

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University of Michigan Press, 2009 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 191 pages
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The cultural phenomenon known as slam poetry was born some twenty years ago in white working-class Chicago barrooms. Since then, the raucous competitions have spread internationally, launching a number of annual tournaments, inspiring a generation of young poets, and spawning a commercial empire in which poetry and hip-hop merge.

The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry is the first critical book to take an in-depth look at slam, shedding light on the relationships that slam poets build with their audiences through race and identity performance, and revealing how poets come to celebrate (and at times exploit) the politics of difference in American culture.

With a special focus on African American poets, Susan B. A. Somers-Willett explores the pros and cons of identity representation in the commercial arena of spoken word poetry and, in doing so, situates slam within a history of verse performance, from blackface minstrelsy to Def Poetry. What's revealed is a race-based dynamic of authenticity lying at the heart of American culture. Rather than being mere reflections of culture, Somers-Willett argues, slams are culture—sites where identities and political values get publicly re-figured and exchanged between poets and audiences.

Susan B. A. Somers-Willett is a decade-long veteran of slam and holds a PhD in American Literature and an MA in creative writing from the University of Texas at Austin. She has taught at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Texas and is the author of two books of poetry, Quiver and Roam.

  

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Contents

Slam and the Search for Poetrys Great Audience
1
Slam Poetry as a Genre
16
The Cultural Tensions
39
Slam Poetry and
68
Spoken Word
96
Designs for LivingNotes on the Future
134
The Ofcial National Poetry Slam Emcee Spiel
149
Bibliography
169
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

Susan B. A. Somers-Willett is the author of a book of poetry, Roam, and a book of criticism, The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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