Sunday, March 04, 2001

Poetry slams attract young fans

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer Contributor

        HAMILTON — It's poetry's sporting event, a kind of aerobic word-fest. And it's growing in popularity, particularly among young adults and teens. Butler County's third annual Poetry Slam takes place March 13, and the competition will be stiff.

        “It's performance poetry, with judges chosen at random from members of the audience,” said Paul Thoms, spokesman for the Riverbank Poetry Project, which presents the event. “It's judged in Olympic style, with judges holding up numbers from one to 10.”

  • What: Riverbank Poetry Project's Poetry Slam.
  • When: 7 p.m. March 13.
  • Where: Fitton Center for Creative Arts, 101 S. Monument Ave., Hamilton.
  • Admission: Free.
  • Information: 863-8873.
        Each performance is rated not just for the poem, but for presentation and audience response, Mr. Thoms explained. High scorers contin ue to a final bout where a champion emerges.

        Slam Master will be Bruce Rich, a local poet who's made the rounds of other poetry slams.

        Poetry slams began in Chicago and have become popular nationwide. Marc Smith, an originator of such competitions, advised the Riverbank Poetry Project on format and guidelines for its first read-off two years ago.

        Mr. Thoms expects a crowd at the Slam, which will be held at Hamilton's Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Since Riverbank Poetry Project was launched in 1998, its monthly open-mike reading sessions have found a growing audience, notably among young people.

        “In poetry circles, six to 10 people at a reading is not a bad turnout,” Mr. Thoms said.

        “We've never been below 30. Our average attendance is about 60, and we sometimes reach 100. I think we're successful because of the variety we offer, and the fact that we go to different locations.”

        Other groups have also seen an upswing in poetry interest.

        The West Chester library has sponsored several Teen Poetry Coffeehouse sessions this year and found a ready audience for the events.

        “They have been well-received by the kids,” said Sharon Kolatalo, the young-adult section librarian. “Our last coffeehouse, in January, was scheduled the night of a big snowstorm and two high-school basketball games. We still had a roomful. The time before that, we had 115 people in a room with a fire code of 100.”

        The library is planning two coffeehouse sessions in April, which is Poetry Month. One event is designed for young people in grades 7-9, and a second for grades 9-12. Ninth-raders may come to either event.

        Poetry sessions are preceded by a half-hour of jazz and refreshment, then students take over the microphone.

        “What has really amazed me is the depth of their poetry,” Ms. Kolatalo said. “It's expressive and emotional, and it addresses issues of concern to young people. The kids are receptive to each others' work.”


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