When it comes to performance poetry, nothing quite compares to the National Poetry Slam (NPS). Every August, more than seventy teams from across the United States and abroad gather for the five-day tournament, each with hopes of attaining the coveted championship. According to previous competitors, the NPS is like the World Series of poetry — rife with competitive spirit and passionate, vocal fans.
Though the slam typically changes host cities annually, it will be returning to Oakland for the second year in a row on August 10, making it the first time a city has ever hosted the competition back-to-back. According to Maureen Benson, the Poetry Slam Inc. event coordinator, the decision to return was an easy one, despite it breaking a 25-year tradition. "There really isn't a better city than Oakland to host such an incredible festival," she said. "[The city] has such a great collection of art and spirit." The locations for poetry readings and slam competitions are scattered throughout downtown, with venues such as Flight Deck, Laurel Bookstore, SoleSpace, and Awaken all taking part. Even the steps of Oakland City Hall will become a slam stage on August 13, when a poetic protest in support of #BlackLivesMatter will take place.
Aside from hosting lively competitions and social demonstrations, the NPS also offers opportunities for novice poets to develop skills and learn from previous championship winners. Introductory seminars and workshops are sprinkled throughout the festival lineup. "If you're not familiar with poetry, [the NPS] is the place to be," said Sonya Renee Taylor, who won the National Individual Poetry Slam in 2004."It'll blow your head off. You'll be saying 'I didn't know poetry could be like this!'" For advanced poets already well versed in the art of spoken word, there are also a handful of seminars to guide writers through the publishing process.
Like NPS festivals in the past, many scheduled readings are designed exclusively for poets hailing from marginalized groups, though general audiences are encouraged to listen to their stories. A few highlights from this far-ranging list include the "Indigenous People Open Mic Night," which celebrates cultural roots; "Gender Outlaws," for people who identify outside the gender binary; "Human Not Disabled," for people challenging ableist normativity; and "A Women's Work: #SafeBlackGirls," which highlights the work of Black women fighting white supremacy.
The popular, humorously themed readings are returning, as well. "Erotica Slam and Dirty Haiku Battle," "Lip Sync Battle," "Nerd Slam," and "Rookie Open Mic" are just a few of the more lighthearted events in this year's lineup, making for a roster that has a little something for everyone.
Primarily, though, there will be "tons of beautiful poetry in the spirit of revolution," said Benson. Next year, the NPS will be held in Georgia, she added: "Come while you can."