Poetry slam | "Sometimes it's the sincerity, sometimes it's the passion“

"Slam poems are different from other poems in the way that they often are longer and have more words since the composers have 3 minutes to do their act. Also, due to the nature of the performance, they are meant to be in a more spoken style rather than in a classical poetry style,"

says Jón Magnús Arnarsson, an actor and former Iceland's champion in Poetry slam. Jón Magnús is now preparing, together with Guðrúna Elísa Ragnarsdóttir, an expert at the Reykjavík City Library, the library's eleventh Poetry slam competition, which will take place at the City Library Grófin (down town) during the Winter Lights Festival on February 2nd.

Like a small play or short film

"Since the Poetry slam is a competition in poetry, you have to pay attention to the content but no less the performance. For example, a poet who reads from a piece of paper does not have the same impact as a poet who knows their poem by heart. Self-confidence takes you a long way and owning the stage, but that doesn't mean you have to be rushed and all over the place. In fact, it is extremely personal what it is that tilts the rating upwards. I have seen poetry delivered in a low voice and in a monotone by a person who stood completely still but just had some "x factor" that carried them to victory. Sometimes it's the sincerity, sometimes the passion."

Guðrún Elísa agrees.

"Yes, the poems are different, there is a different rhythm in them, because the performance is just as important as the words, you have to reach the audience with your act, a solid idea, like a small play or a short film, the audience should be absorbed to the scene."

Poetry Slam is a competition in expression where the word and the poem are the main elements. The performance also plays a big role and various performance arts can be added to the act.  A traditional poetry reading does not count as a poetry slam, the focus is on the poetry performance as a stage art and the performers can add e.g. visual arts or drama. Then the jury judges each act based on the poem itself, as well as passion and enthusiasm in performance, style and content, and sometimes also based on the reaction of the audience. The poems must be original and must not have been published in print, but there is no requirement for an original performance.

You cannot use music or musical instruments, but you may use props which according to Jón Magnús is not according to the strictest rules of international slam.

"But we make an exception while the Icelandic poetry slam is establishing."He says that the slam scene in Iceland is not too big. "No, it's not as is is now since it's more or less unknown art form in this country. But the upcoming competitions along with more events are exactly meant to improve that!"

"We're hoping to raise a new generation of poetry slammers, it's such a fun concept because the options are endless, it's just a microphone, the words and an audience. Last year there was someone who brought cards that he used in his act, which was really fun. However, poets must keep in mind that the props do not distract the act, the poem is the main thing. There will be a three-member jury with much experience from the music, acting and rap industry. Each poet goes on stage once and prizes will be given for 1st-3rd place."

Guðrún Elísa sais. 


Slammed around the world

When asked, Jón Magnús, who won the City Library's Poetry Slamm back in 2017, says that it opened many doors for him. Since then he has traveled around the world, from England to India to "slam" but sais that the arrangement abroad is generally slightly different.

"It's a knock-out competition where judges give scores for each act and the winner of each round continues until victory is achieved." Therefore the poets need to have more than one act prepared."

Although the poetry slam scene is not big in Iceland yet, it certainly is elsewhere. The art form has its roots in Chicago in the 1980s, and the idea of the first competition was to bring poetry from the academy to the public. American poet Marc Smith felt that the poetry scene had become too stiff and formal so he experimented with "open mic" poetry nights by turning them into a competition and getting participants to slam with enthusiasm and style to shake things up.

The biggest poetry slam competition that Jón Magnús has been to was in Germany, with more than two thousand audience and a huge stage, although he says that the competitions are usually on a smaller scale.

"The stages come in all sizes, but it's often a fairly cozy environment where there is an opportunity to establish a good relationship with the audience and create intimacy and excitement in the performance. Therefore it's much to win for poets competing in the Library's Poetry Slam competition, both domestically and no less abroad, if people are interested in it!"

Sunna Benjamínsdóttir Bohn won the City Library's Poetry Slam Competition in 2023 with the poem How to make a poetry slam - Instructions. Afterwards she was invited to participate in Slamovision in Nottingham, England, which is also an UNESCO City of Literature like Reykjavík. That competition takes place online, i.e. poets submit a recording of their acts, and each participating country has jury members who vote for the best scenes. Guðrún Elísa was one of three judges from Iceland in 2023. 

"There were around 13 acts, all very different. Sunna translated her act to English before she recorded it. This is crazy, it's so much fun. Then the winner of Slamovision must come to Nottingham."

Here you can find all the details about the Poetry Slam Compotition February 2nd.
Registration deadline is January 30th. 




UpdatedTuesday January 23rd 2024, 17:43