David Hart (left) and Tony Fudge prepare for the Madison Grand Poetry Slam this weekend.
Madison’s top slam and performance poets will compete in the Madison Grand Poetry Slam Saturday, May 19 at Gennas Lounge for a chance to represent Madison at the 2012 National Poetry Slam in Charlotte, N.C.
“It's Madison's best spoken-word poets. It's the best of the best,” says Tony Fudge, a finalist in the slam and one of the organizers for Urban Spoken Word. “It's all of the people who have won throughout the season. So, it's going to be a hot night of poetry.”
Every third Saturday at the Genna's Lounge, a diverse and energetic crowd of spoken-word enthusiasts come out for Madison's longest standing open mic. The May 19 slam will be the culmination of the 2011-2012 season, and the poets who have proven themselves in competition at the monthly Urban Spoken-Word Poetry Slams will battle not only for a place on the team, but also for the title of Madison Grand Slam Champion.
Spoken word is a form of poetry that often uses alliterated prose or verse and occasionally uses metered verse to express social commentary. Traditionally, it is in the first person, is from the poet’s point of view, and is themed in current events.
“Next season is going to be bananas... it's our 10th anniversary,” says David Hart, founder, organizer, and host of Urban Spoken Word. “We are really expanding our work and our mission. Our effort in our 10th year and beyond is to just legitimize spoken word as an artform in Madison. Clearly, with [the UW-Madison Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives] First Wave and other groups around Madison we are definitely moving towards that.”
Fudge started as a little teenager working the door and has morphed into one of the city's talented spoken-word poets.
“Since the beginning of Urban Spoken Word in Madison, I've been going to the slams and the open mic's. I've been kind of sitting in the back and I worked the door since I was young,” Fudge remembers. “Eventually, I kept soaking in all of this poetry and through osmosis it seeped into my brain and I started to write my own poetry. One day, I just decided to get up there.”
Poetry slam is the art — and sport — of competitive poetry reading. Five judges are picked at random from the audience, and performers are judged based on content, delivery, form, and originality. Each poet has three minutes, and cannot use props, costumes, or music; it’s just the voice and the mic. Part poetry, part theater, part stand-up comedy, part oratory, slam is constantly evolving and always entertaining.
“When you have words and heavy thoughts and feelings that are in your soul and in your heart, there's not too many places for people to have an outlet for that,” Fudge says. “That's the power of spoken-word poetry. You can just let that all out. We have a lot of young people who come in and just let it all out and we find that they have so much to say.”
“In addition to it being therapeutic and cathartic and all of those things that we always attribute to spoken word and poetry and hip-hop, we really believe in the power of words,” Hart adds. “There is a responsibility for those who open their mouths to speak to others in the group to say the truth.”
There are no age limits to performing spoken-word poetry, but youngsters seem to dominate the art.
“We do a lot of efforts with developing young poets and they are sometimes insecure about their poetry,” Fudge says. “They say, 'I don't know if this is going to sound good.' I tell them, 'As long as it's from the soul and from the heart and it is the truth, it's going to be good.'
“You never know how one word or one line of your poem could effect somebody who might have a shared experience with you,” Fudge adds. “It has happened to me where somebody has come up to me after a set and said, ‘That one line just hit for me. I was almost in tears. It really resonated with me.' That's another powerful part of spoken-word poetry.”
There are many style of spoken-word poetry. Every person is unique so everybody has their own style.
“It's as diverse as the body called hip-hop, diverse as the body called R&B or soul. There's just a freedom of expression and a good mix of diversity and voices at the table,” Hart says.
The Urban Spoken Word Slam has consistently packed Genna’s upstairs room, displaying the best performance poets both locally and nationally. Nationally renowned spoken-word poets — names like Dan Vaughn, Rod "Rodzilla" Freeman, Carrie Rudzinski, and Queen Sheba, a National Poetry Slam competitor and organizer — make the pilgrammage to Wisconsin to swing through and spit at Madison’s only monthly slam.
“In spoken word, the past 10 years have seen some of the foremost national spoken-word artists come to Madison,” Hart says.
Madison's best will serve as ambassadors for both Madison and spoken-word in general as the grand slam champion will join three others at the 2012 National Poetry Slam in Charlotte, North Carolina, August 7-11. The 2008 National Poetry Slam, held for the first time in Madison, proved that the city as a whole — not just the University and its successful First Wave Program — could be an epicenter for spoken-word poetry.
“The 2008 National Poetry Slam here really showed us that there was a market here for the legitimacy of poetry,” Hart says.
Since then, Madison has continued to become a stronger player on the national scene alongside spoken-word giants New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago.
“We have a vision for what we want to see in Madison. We feel like Madison is a place where spoken-word poetry can really flourish and grow so we want to make Madison a mecca for spoken word,” Fudge says.
“We should be able to do it here. This city supports the arts like no other city,” Hart adds. “We have an abundance of talent and leadership and we have a lot of national artists coming through.”
Hart would like to see Urban Spoken Word anchored some place to help show that they will have some longevity. “Our own place would show that we can be viewed in the community like all of the other arts are viewed,” Hart says.
The Grand Poetry Slam is going to be a wild show, both as an entry point for people just getting into spoken-word poetry and as a climax for people who have been following the slams all year.
“It is the perfect entry point into spoken-word and slam poetry because this will be a showcase of some of Madison's best talent,” Hart says. “It will also operate as an opportunity to inspire folks who are just coming in. They don't have to worry about bringing their journals or be afraid that they will get called on to read. They can just come, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.... and make some connections.”
Madison’s top slam and performance poets will compete in the Madison Grand Poetry Slam Saturday, May 19 at Gennas Lounge, 105 W. Main Street. The poetry is passionate, funny, powerful, and always entertaining. Come on out to see what everybody is talking about.