September 14th, 2009 – by Emily Benner
Screaming on Paper
The shy young man approached the stage, power in his stance, focus on his face, and fire in his gaze. Approaching the microphone he let out a powerful scream: “I’m screaming on paper! I said, I’m screaming on paper!” His intense declaration was shared by all twelve contestants at the Busboys and Poets poetry slam on Friday night. These poets were releasing their innermost passions by screaming on paper through their poetry.
Since I had never been to a poetry slam before I had no idea what to expect. The line outside the building was long and tickets were in high demand but I was able to purchase one of the last tickets just in time. The concert room in the back of Busboys and Poets was packed- each table, chair, booth, and couch filled to capacity. The energy in the room could be felt even before the poets began.
Each poet had three minutes to deliver their original poetry. I was blown away by the power and passion in each poet’s voice and body. Topics ranged from God to sex to relationships to hate to racism and nearly everything in between. Some poems were filled with humor and the audience would burst into uncontrolled laughter. Others were so intense with emotion that audience members would nod their heads or clap their hands in affirmation. Several times I felt goose bumps on my arms because of the intensity of the performers.
After each poet’s time was up, five judges, chosen at random, would score the poets on a scale from one to ten: one being the worst and ten being the best. For every good score, the audience would applaud and cheer and for every bad score the audience would “boo” their disapproval. The five highest scoring poets would advance to the second round where the top three scoring poets would be declared the winners.
I was lucky enough to be squeezed into a table with five of the performers, three of whom won the slam. These five men were not professional performers, not well known artists. Some were college students, one was in high school. One was from Trinidad, one from Virginia, three from D.C. But they had one thing in common: they were ordinary people, making a difference through the written word.
I was so inspired by each of their stories that I started thinking that perhaps I could one day perform poetry myself. Perhaps I could make an impact on someone’s life the way they had impacted mine. Perhaps one day I could have the courage to scream on paper.