By Tatyana Brown
The relationship between poetry as it is performed and websites such as YouTube and Upworthy is a rich and complicated one. Purists will tell you nothing compares to being in the room with a live audience in that ephemeral moment when a poet delivers well-crafted work with ardent sincerity. Some argue that shared experience is at the root of what makes the tradition of reading and listening to poetry out loud so compelling. And even the most devout YouTube viewers must admit that listening to the recording of a live audience howling and moaning in shock as a poet reads can be a bit … distracting.
And at the same time, it’s impossible to deny the impact short, shareable videos have had on the public awareness of contemporary poetry. The exponential shift in popularity of poetry slam alone over the past decade can be attributed in no small way to YouTube. Many people discover slam this way, spending hours devouring footage of poets long before they have a chance to go to a local show or reading (especially since there are plenty of places in the world where local poetry venues might be hard to come by, and many performance spaces aren’t wheelchair accessible). And aside from exposure and awareness, poetry videos allow people all over the world to immerse themselves in work that speaks to them no matter the distance – creating conversations between artists and audiences that wouldn’t ever find one another otherwise.
Vibrant online communities have arisen to support poetry fans looking for great work online.For example, Fuck Yeah Poetry Slam (a blog for slam/spoken word fans that gets its name from the “Fuck Yeah _____” meme), has been sharing spoken word on Tumblr since 2010 and has amassed a following of more than 8,000 people. Now they want to push the idea of online audience participation one step further and use the blog as a platform to create a slam team – one that competes at the 2014 National Poetry Slam in Oakland, Calif., this summer.
In the past, video slams have been used to select competitors for Individual competition (such as the Brenda Moossy Video Slam, which sends one representative each year to the Women of the World Poetry Slam), but no one has ever attempted to send a team before. FYPS decided to use poet Wonder Dave’s YouTube channel as their “online venue,” in order to guarantee that each official slam hosted in the team selection process would get the minimum number of “attendants” required to register as an Official Slam with PSi. All videos from the FYPS team selection process will be posted to that channel as well as the blog.
When FYPS put out the call for competitors, just under 30 poets from Vermont to Alaska submitted work for consideration. One poet hailing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, sent in poems for competition as well. With that many competitors, they’ve set up a six-slam preliminary tournament. Each slam will be set up as a playlist (with videos linked into a cohesive show). The two poets with the most likes from each playlist will submit a second video and become part of the Online Finals.
Slam No. 1 in the Fuck Yeah Poetry Slam team selection process has already taken place, and with 157 views on the low end and over 1000 views on the most popular video on that playlist, it looks like the series will be well above the minimum attendance requirements to certify the venue. The venue host, Wonder Dave, comes to the job with lots of experience as the former Slam Master of SlamMN in Minneapolis. He has been a regular contributing editor to FYPS for years now (originally brought onboard to increase the humorous content of the space). You can follow along as this team is formed via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and, of course, YouTube.