Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam


The first definitive history of one of the 21st century's most explosive art movements, Words In Your Face explores the birth, growing pains and continuing development of the Poetry Slam - a raucous poetry event that has been called "a pop culture phenomenon" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times), "the death of Art" (Harold Bloom, Paris Review) and has been blamed for making "poetry sexy again in a way it hasn't been since the heyday of the Beats" (Stephen Hoiden, The New York ...
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Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam

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The first definitive history of one of the 21st century's most explosive art movements, Words In Your Face explores the birth, growing pains and continuing development of the Poetry Slam - a raucous poetry event that has been called "a pop culture phenomenon" (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times), "the death of Art" (Harold Bloom, Paris Review) and has been blamed for making "poetry sexy again in a way it hasn't been since the heyday of the Beats" (Stephen Hoiden, The New York Times).

Spoken word icons such as Saul Williams, Maggie Estep, Bob Holman and John S. Hall join scores of other poets, organizers, filmmakers, scholars and critics in bringing the story of the New York City Poetry Slam movement to life. From its origins in the roofless, unheated Nuyorican Poets Cafe and its mid-90s rise in the pop culture ranks thanks to MTV and Lollapalooza, to its fresh successes on stage and small screen thanks to Russell Simmon's Def Poetry projects and its devoted following among youth poets, queer poets and poets of color, the Poetry Slam is analyzed, idealized and criticized, all from a uniquely New York perspective. Without question, Poetry Slams have altered the cultural landscape of poetry in America, and Words In Your Face offers an insider view of how the New York City poetry community took a simple concept - giving scores to poetry - and helped to forever revolutionize how America views poetry and how poets view themselves.

About the Author:
Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz is the Founder of the three-time National Poetry Slam Championship venue NYC-Urbana

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Years of research and interviews led to the creation of this work by poet Aptowicz (Working Class Represent), founder of the National Poetry Slam Championship. In it, Aptowicz defines three cultural movements contributing to slam poetry: the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat movement, and the advent of hip-hop. Her captivating history reveals a highly charged, creative genre, but no footnotes or bibliography back up the text. Instead, Aptowicz offers an oral history from her firsthand experiences and from interviews with key slammers like Bob Holman, Maggie Estep, Saul Williams, Edward Garcia, Jen Weiss, and many more. These accounts strive to answer that key question-Why slam?-by testifying to the immediate gratification slammers feel in getting their words out and the strong sense of community they experience through their performances. Readers may wish for more examples besides Beau Sia's tribute to "the Ginz" (Allen Ginsberg) and the poetry triggered by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Including numerous photos and chronologies of slam events, this is useful for libraries offering poetry slams as part of their programming.
—Nedra Crowe-Evers

School Library Journal

Adult/High School -New York City's Slam movement started in the 1980s as the dream of Bob Holman to pull poetry out of the clutches of academia and bring it back to regular folks as a popular art form. Its traditional influences of Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsburg, and Langston Hughes played a large part in its substance, while punk rock and hip-hop brought in a decidedly new-and often aggressive-aesthetic. Aptowicz uses anecdotes, stories, and interviews to chronicle the life of this unique art form. The general public holds an image of an aggressive, in-your-face poet shouting words on stage, but the author shows a movement with surprising levels of depth and diversity. Although many may know the backgrounds and names of the poets who made a big splash on popular TV programs like MTV's Spoken Word Unplugged and Def Poetry Jam , the stories of Slam's beginnings and how it continued to grow in spite of its sudden popularity are what make this book so fascinating. Teens with an interest in writing lyrics will love the stories and will find Aptowicz's style accessible and entertaining. A number of photographs and addresses to major Slam venues are included, but there is no index or bibliography of major published works. Slam Poetry has spread to coffee shops, art galleries, and even libraries across the country; knowing and understanding its roots only enhances the power the style already holds over its audiences.-Matthew L. Moffett, Pohick Regional Library, Burke, VA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933368825
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/1/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 796,572
  • Lexile: 1270L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Table of Contents

Foreword     ix
Preface     xvii
A Brief Introduction to Poetry Slams     xxiii
More Slam Basics: A Slam Poet's Hypothetical Journey from a Local Slam to the National Poetry Slam     xxiv
Pre-waves; or, The Early Days     1
A Very Quick and Slanted Pre-Slam History by Someone Who Wasn't There     3
The Pre-Slam History of NYC Poetry and Bob Holman, as told by Bob Holman     10
Getting a Roof On It: The Reopening of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe     22
The Birth of a Movement: NYC Slam's First Year     26
The Vocabulary of The Poetry Slam: Part I     34
Marc Smith (So What!): The Truth About Who Invented the Poetry Slam     35
The Myth of Slam Poetry: The Poetry Slam Certainly Exists, but is There Such a Thing as Slam Poetry?     42
Playing Nice: The First National Poetry Slam     44
Slam's Tipping Point: The End of the Nuyorican's First Year     50
The First Wave (1990-1996)     53
Exploding Texts: Slammers Take It to the Next Level     61
An Interview with Maggie Estep, First Wave Icon     65
From Sea to Shining Sestina: The United States of Poetry and Other Poetry on Your TV     75
NYC Slam's First Bible: The Creation of Aloud     87
We're Here, We Slam, Get Used toIt: The Influence of Queer Voices In NYC Slam     93
1994: The Year Slam Explodes     94
Unfair Stereotypes of Other Cities Slams: One Nerd's Perspective     99
Rap Meets Poetry: The Birth of Mouth Almighty     103
First and Always: Graduates from NYC Poetry Slam's First Wave     119
Second Wave (1996-2001)     125
May I Introduce to You the Future: In 1996, Slam Transforms     133
Slam's Second Bible: How Slam Nation Spread the Gospel According to NYC Slam     137
How to Make a Living as a Slam Poet: Mouth Almighty and the Growing Importance of the National Poetry Slam     148
The Vocabulary of The Poetry Slam: Part II     158
We Don't Do Group Pieces: Nuyo Conquers, then Divides     161
And Two Become Three: Mouth Almighty Becomes NYC-Urbana and Nuyo's Championship Team Becomes louderARTS     175
60 Minutes: The Poets Slam Back!     184
Passing the Mic: Felice Belle and the Changing Face of the Nuyorican     188
What It's Like to be There: Nuyorican, NYC-Urbana & louderARTS at the End of the Twentieth Century     197
Rules to Play By: The Unspoken, Rumored Rules of Slam     213
Welcome to the AfterFuture: The Explosion of the Second Wave Poets     215
Third Wave (2001-2007)     237
2001: The Year Everything Changed     245
Words That Comfort: The Aftermath of 9/11 on the NYC Poetry Slam Community     248
Thank You and God Bless: Def Poetry Hits the Airwaves and Broadway     260
Taylor Mali: The Man, The Myth, The Industry     265
What the Heck Is Going On Here?: The Bowery Poetry Club Opens (Kinda) for Business     267
The Rise of Self-Publishing and the Slam     285
Slam's Biggest Non-Slamming Icon Speaks: John S. Hall Takes On Everything Right But Mostly Wrong with the Slam     286
Because This Generation Can Speak for Itself: The Birth of Urban Word and the NYC Teen Slams     303
Hip-Hop and the Canon: Slam's Influence     316
NYC Slam Grows Up: NYC's Slam Third Wave Faces the Future     318
The Good, The Bad, and The Poetry: The Impact of Slam, Inside and Out     327
The Afterword: Or, A Completely Invented Transcription That Nonetheless Felt So Real     351
For More Information     365
New York City Poetry Slam Teams From 1990 to 2007     366
Acknowledgments     370
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