In the end, we see how social justice poetry has grown from a history of speaking out and seizing an identity. Now, it is all around us, flowing through poems and voices, stretching from the page to the voice to the ear. We are the audience and the speaker. Rachel Rostad is a young poet, carrying on the legacy. But she is also a college student, a person. An individual with words and experience, bringing back the history of social justice to the public sphere.
As a major re-birth of the oral aspect of poetry, the effects of slam poetry can be seen in many living poets today. Two poets with different backgrounds offer insight into how claiming an identity and interacting directly with an audience has shaped contemporary social justice poetry.
The son of Philippine immigrants, Patrick Rosal has published three books of poetry: Boneshepherds, My American Kundiman, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive. He has received many different awards and fellowships such as a Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines.
Sarah Kay is the co-director and founder of Project VOICE, an initiative to bring poetry to youth. The author of the book B, she works as an editor for Write Bloody Publishing and has given many talks about poetry including one presented at the 2011 TED Conference. In 2006, she was the youngest poet competing at the National Poetry Slam.
Most individuals are familiar with the concept of slam poetry; people sitting in a coffee house or lounge listening to a poet stand on a stage and rant in metaphor and poetic phrases about the world to the echoes of approval and or disapproval. Slam poetry is what many people think of when they imagine a poet in today’s world. It brings the spoken word to a competitive plane with audience interaction.
Slam has very particular characteristics simply put as no limitations. The founder of slam, Marc Smith writes, “Slam is about all styles. It is about expanding the possibilities of poetry instead of limiting them, about injecting performance into the art of poetry, and most importantly about creating community amongst poets and audiences of diverse natures.” Within this broad concept of slam, however, the idea of diversity pulls forth to fashion a particular identity around slam. “It’s open to all types of people. It provides a forum for performing artists to develop new works and push the envelope of their creativity” Smith writes.
As a result, slam takes on the image of identity expression and where the marginalized come to speak about their backgrounds. And all this is accomplished through writing that is accessible to all. Susan Somers-Willett touches on the significance of the poetry’s mode, “Slam’s emphases on diversity, inclusion, and democracy have resulted in a ‘pluralism’ among its poets. . . Such pluralism, the scholar Tyler Hoffman remarks, ‘points to the fact that the spoken word in the U.S. in recent decades is tied up in powerful social movements that re framed– and validated– cultural identities of minorities.'”
From this, it is evident that Slam serves as a medium for social justice/action poetry. It centers on the socio-political in an accessible way, bringing the topics of identity and marginalization that appears in poetry to the attention of the audience. This interaction may be seen through the following videos of slam:
In both poems, the topics relevant to the speakers also connect to this idea of marginalization due to minority.
Thus, it can be seen how what is discussed in thought on the page and how the seizure of an identity by the poet is brought to the people directly by word of mouth.