Slam! Local poets go to the mat

By Mara Rockliff

Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda once called poetry “an act of peace.” Of course, Neruda never duked it out at a poetry slam.
Charlottesville’s only open mic and poetry slam, held monthly at the Mudhouse, is not for wimps. “If it’s your first time reading your poetry out loud in public,” suggests 17-year-old organizer Tucker Duncan, “I’d say just sign up for the open mic.” He adds, “Of course, you could be daring and enter the slam just for the hell of it.”
Feeling daring? Here are the rules: (1) Original poems only. (2) No props. (3) Three minutes or less. And bring several poems– you’ll need a new one for each elimination round. Duncan picks judges from the audience to score performances, and buys the prizes– books and t-shirts– with his own money.
“We get all kinds of people,” Duncan says, “12-year-olds and 65-year-olds.” Topics have ranged from caring for a mother with cancer (“great hand movements, emotion, eye contact”) to dealing with life as an African American student at UVA (“hilarious”).
Duncan confesses to a soft spot for newcomers. “They’re really sensitive and haven’t done it before, but they’re giving it a shot,” he says. “I want up-and-coming poets to know there’s a home for them in Charlottesville.”
Launched in Chicago 18 years ago by a young poet and construction worker named Marc Smith, poetry slam has hit the big time– worldwide competitions, MTV coverage, even a 1998 movie called Slam. The research-minded can delve into slam’s history and lore at, the website of the National Poetry Slam (described as “part Super Bowl, part poetry summer camp, and part traveling exhibition”). Or, just come to the Mudhouse Friday evening and experience slam for yourself.

Open mic and poetry slam Friday, May 24 at the Mudhouse. Open mic 8pm, performance of any kind, up to five minutes. Poetry slam 9pm, original poems only, no props, up to three minutes. Free, all ages. 242-8514

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