Minneapolis is a prominent center for slam poetry

Grace Palmer, Opinions Editor

“The first time I saw her… everything in my head went quiet,” begins local slam poet Neil Hilborn’s piece, about his experiences being in love while having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For many, this was one of the first slam poetry performances they had ever seen. A video of Hilborn performing this poem recently went viral, racking up 6.5 million views.

Ollie Schminkey, a member of the Macalester slam team, said this video was “[when] the boom really started.” They added, “the rest of the poetry community gained exposure.” Poets have gained avid followers, people who eagerly watch their YouTube subscription feeds for new poems, just as they would for a new song from a favorite musician.

In a world where the internet is vilified for promoting anonymity, slam poetry videos are striking in their degree of honesty and the glimpses they provide into the performer’s consciences. Dralandra Larkins, a South junior, who writes and performs poetry said “someone reads my poems and it’s like they’re reading into me.”

The scads of poems that have recently become popular have something in common – the poets are completely unafraid of sharing even their deepest secrets. “You’re sharing your soul with these people,” Kat Fleckenstein, also a Macalester slam poet, said. As an audience member, this glimpse into the inner lives of others is unique and appealing.

“Slam does something really special: it gives people a safe space to talk about emotions and situations that are normally socially taboo,” Schminkey said. Speaking to her own experience, Anna Binkovitz said, “I was in a really bad place and performance helped pull me out.”

Watching a poet perform, there are obvious similarities with a therapy session. As an audience member, this is hugely compelling. Poets also benefit, looking to the medium as an opportunity to work through issues. “Honestly, for me, it’s easier to talk to a room full of strangers than it is to talk to people that I know.” Schminkey said, adding that they are “an external processor.”

Similarly, Binkovitz performs a poem entitled “On Being Left” detailing her experiences and thoughts on getting over a breakup. It begins strikingly personal, with “Everything is cold. The world outside with its January and early night, my body, the skin you knew only as warm and naked, and you.”

Poetry provides a unique outlet, but the poets I talked to also emphasised a connection aspect. “My poetry is activism,” Schminkey said. “If I go up and share my story about being sexually assaulted, or having terminally ill parent, other people can often find community in that.” Poets emphasised the community that has formed around the slam scene, particularly in Minneapolis. Nikolas Martell called it “one of the most welcoming and supportive communities I have known.”

The Minneapolis scene in particular is known for for prizing the personal aspect in poems. “The crowds at Minneapolis tend to appreciate well performed poems with a lot of emotion,” Schminkey said. Binkovitz agreed, saying “we [Minneapolis] tend to get a lot more emotional, quiet, and literary than a lot of places.”

Kai Peterson, a senior, said that the appeal for him is seeing how much the poems matter to the poets.”I like seeing anybody be passionate about anything and these people are really passionate about what they do,” he said.

Minneapolis offers many opportunities to see slam poets in action, or to try it out yourself. SlamMN!, a local organization, hosts events like “Word Ninjas Open Mic Night” and “Story SlamMN!” which anyone can attend, usually about once a week. The Minneapolis scene is both unique and a extremely successful player on a national scale.

Minneapolis houses Button Poetry, an organization which promotes and distributes slam performances. Videos filmed locally by the organization have been a huge part of the viral spread of various poems, including Hillborn’s “OCD” which Schminkey estimated currently has the most views of any slam performance.

Minneapolis is known for producing well known and successful poets – Guante, known for his poem “10 responses to the phrase ‘man up’” and Michael Lee, known for “The Addict, a Magician,” among many others. “We’re a powerhouse,” Martell said.

However, poets also made the point that even those with little to no experience can find a haven at Minneapolis poetry slams and open mic nights.

Young people in Minneapolis have a unique opportunity to get involved in the community, and poets are happy to welcome them into the scene. Schminkey said, “Passionate young people really are the future and the push of this artform.”