by Ashe Vernon
I stumbled into slam poetry about a year ago. Since then, I’ve gone on tour and participated in a national competition, and I can say without even a shred of doubt that slam poetry completely changed my life. Slam takes the isolation out of writing. Often, writing is a very solitary art, and the difficulty of getting your words out to people is trumped only by the difficulty of getting feedback from those people, once you do. Slam isn’t like that. Slam is a conversation—a give and take. The audience moves with you; it tells you how they’re feeling. Slam provides a solidarity, a validation and an immediacy that writing for the page lacks.
Writing is cathartic for me. But I think that’s true for most people. But slam provides an entirely different kind of healing. As a poet with clinical depression, slam provides a vital kind of validation. I’ve never known anything as gentle as a room full of poets. In the poetry community you’re allowed to be raw, you’re allowed to be vulnerable. Typical rules of social decorum and what is “acceptable” to say and feel in public go out the window. At slams, I’ve had strangers wrap me up in their arms. I’ve had new friends hold my hand. I have never, not once, been allowed to cry alone. At a poetry slam, hurting is met with open arms and soft reassurance.
For me, poetry slams have never been about the competition—and while I know there are a handful of poets who would disagree with that, I think the poetry community on a whole is made up of people who love the heart and soul of it all more than they could ever love the points.
Poetry is there for me. It’s always there.
I got my start on tumblr, writing strictly for the page and not for performance. Back then, I’d never been to a poetry slam. It’s interesting, now, being able to look at both of these different poetry communities and how much they have in common while still being so, so different. Despite the fact that I have my name attached to every poem I post online, there’s still a certain amount of anonymity to written poetry. Even the books I sell don’t have the kind of immediacy of hearing someone speak. Written work allows my words to exist separate from me. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, sometimes I’m very grateful for the distance.
Slam is the absolute opposite of that. There’s nothing anonymous about a poetry slam. Slam forces me to take ownership of my words and my feelings. Sometimes it’s impossibly hard. There are plenty of things in my poetry that I’m afraid to let myself feel. Sometimes, it makes me wish for the kind of distance I get from writing on a page.
But slam has taught me one thing better than anything else:
I’m not here to make poetry out of my pain,
I’m here to make poetry out of my survival.
Ashe Vernon has been writing for as long as she can remember, but she found poetry when she most needed it. Her words first hit the stage in the tiny town of Lufkin, Texas and since then she has been featured in two poetry anthologies and published a collection of poetry all her own–Belly of the Beast, via Words Dance Publishing. She’s stumbled her way onto stages across Texas and is currently touring the southwest with her best friend and partner in crime. At 5'2", Ashe is a very tiny person with very tiny hands and a whole lot to say about it. Her second book, Wrong Side of a Fistfight came out this summer through Where Are You Press.