Poetry ‘slam’ offers UK students chance to compete regionally, nationally

By Joy Priest

Many UK students may not know that their school has a “slam poetry” team, and even more students may not know what “slam poetry” is. On Tuesday night the Cats Den is hosting the Association of College Unions International qualifying poetry slam for poets who want to join a team and compete on a regional and national level and for students who want to witness a “slam,” said Alexis Gray, coordinator of the event.

The poetry slam will feature poets competing with their best two original slam pieces in a format of two rounds with five judges scoring their performances on a scale from one to 10 (10 being the highest score, Gray said. There will be three finalists.

“Bring your voices,” Gray said. “There’s not that many poetry opportunities on campus, and the past few years the finalists have gotten the opportunity to compete in a regional tournament at East Carolina University and even nationals in the spring semester.”

Attendees will also get the opportunity to witness a professional.

Leatha Kendrick, a published poet and two-time recipient of the Al Smith Fellowship in Poetry from the Kentucky Arts Council who has received fellowships in both poetry and fiction from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, will be the feature at Tuesday night’s poetry slam.

“Slams are definitely exciting when there’s good competition involved,” Gray said. “I look forward to seeing talent from last year’s team return, and I know there’s a lot of talent on UK’s campus from seeing it firsthand. I hope some new faces come out that have never competed in this tournament.”

Mike Kimble, assistant director of admission for recruitment at UK, has competed with the team the past five years as an undergrad and then a graduate student. He made the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational’s national competition twice, once in New Mexico and once in Boston (last year the team made nationals, but wasn’t able to travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. due to lack of funds, according to Kimble).

Kimble won’t make the slam Tuesday night, but said the experience is invaluable for aspiring poets.

“It’s really hard to put into words,” he said. “You’re around the best poets and slammers. Regionals was a wake-up call for me. The first year I didn’t make it to nationals — I kind of got my butt handed to me. You can’t imagine all of the poets you’re going to meet at nationals from across the country, from California, etc.”

Kimble said these competitions have really nurtured him as a performance artist.

“I was popular and well-sought after as an artist in Kentucky,” he said, “but when I got to regionals and nationals, I really grew around all that competition. It’s going to make you an immensely more creative and hungry poet to surround yourself with more hungry poets.”

Kimble said the difference between a poetry reading or open mic and a poetry slam is the atmosphere and performance style.

“A poetry reading or an open mic is a way more subdued atmosphere,” Kimble said. “You’re more free to express anything you wrote at this point. A poetry slam is way more choreographed and features something you may have wrote a long time ago and have went through the process of memorizing. “

Kimble said it’s all about strategy at a slam.

“You have to be strategic in what you’re talking about because the crowd may not understand what you’re talking about, so you’re way more strategic in picking your pieces.”

Kimble said students should come out to observe Tuesday’s poetry slam because it’s a new experience.

“UK is so into the norm of what to do that if it isn’t accepted into ‘what’s popular,’ people don’t go to it,” Kimble said. “A slam is going to open your mind to different beliefs. Every slam I’ve left I’ve came out different because I observed someone else’s perspective.”


What: Poetry Slam w/ Leatha Kendrick

When: Tuesday 7 p.m.

Where: Cats Den, Student Center

Admission: Free