Slam poetry is a major influence on my style–more when I immerse myself in it. Some people find it hard to understand and some people are uncomfortable with the chaos and rhythm and unpredictability in church, so I try to moderate its impact on my sermons, but it’s there and it’s important. Many poets come out of music backgrounds, looking to do more than meter and melody make space for. Ani DiFranco and Alix Olson join legions of rap artists and the old beat poets to round out the race and gender possibilities in an old tradition. Aural learning–storytelling, education, religion–is very deeply linked to our historic experience of being human. In recent generations we have tied it firmly to music and that’s why our poets tend to blend them. Spoken word CDs are harder to find and harder to market, and most people mix the disciplines because that’s who they are and because (I suspect) marketing is easier.
Taylor Mali, however, has nudged his career from classroom teaching with a side of slam poetry to slam poetry with a side of workshops and bypassed music entirely. He is very, very good at what he does. I recommend his work highly. I also recommend his “Baker’s Dozen Secrets of Slam” which he has made available in a little, bandwidth-light slideshow here. If you’re preaching this summer or teaching or leading tours or emceeing open mics take a look.