S09-61 05

The arrival and development of Poetry Slam in Spain.


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Jonathan TeumaUniversidad Rey Juan Carlos


Introduction: Regular poetry slams have been held in Spain since around 2009. Arriving via differing routes such as the institutional (Goethe Institute, Madrid), the entertainment business (Hipnotic, Barcelona), and poets themselves (Mallorca). Whatever the case the phenomenon has spread like wildfire and spearheaded by organising poets can now be found in over 30 cities, under two different national associations -Poetry Slam España (PSE) & Poetry Slam Sur- each holding regular local and national championships. Local slams affiliated to PSE are run independently by either individuals or small associations. This has given rise to a diverse yet unified poetic movement that interacts with society at various levels.

Poetry Slam differs from other poetic movements in that it is not so much a style of writing as it is a social movement that aims to provide a connecting point between writers/performers and readers/audiences. As such, the poetry slam movement in Spain has proved to be a solid platform for voices emanating from diverse social equality movements including the 15M, the LGTBQ+ and feminist collectives, among others. Slam initiatives beyond the stage include both sporadic and sustained poetry workshop programs in schools (Proyecto Slam Jaen, Poetry Slam Madrid, Poetry Slam Barcelona), both slams and workshops in penitentiaries (Poetry Slam Madrid, Poetry Slam Cantabria) as well as workshop programs with minority and excluded communities (Poetry Slam Ciudad Real).

Despite the slam’s late arrival in Spain (about two decades after it landed in nearby countries such as France, Germany, Poland and the UK), Spanish performers have fared well as international slams and are regularly invited to perform at international gatherings. Given all of this, it is surprising that the movement receives little press or academic attention and less institutional support.

Objectives: This presentation aims to stir wider interest in the poetry slam movement in Spain by exploring both its unifying foundations and the diverse social initiatives that stem from these and thus shed light beyond the rather limiting and insufficient definition of poetry slam as a mere performance poetry competition.

Methodology: An analysis of the development of the poetry slam movement in Spain, with a particular focus on the aspects behind and beyond the competition element most commonly attributed to it. The presentation will rely on the founding principles of the slam movement, as set out by founder Mark Kelly Smith in Take the Mic  (2009), an examination of the little academic material available, a literary review of some books written on and about the poetry slam,  as well as poems and texts from slam performers and press articles on the matter and first-hand accounts from poets and organizers.

Conclusion: The poetry slam movement is highly under-rated at various levels, including but not restricted to, institutional, academic, journalistic and societal perspectives. Despite this little attention and support the results that the movement as a whole has produced, as will be attested in both the presentation and full published text, are truly remarkable and have the potential to be even more so, if just a few more of us turn our eyes (studies and support) in that direction.

Preguntas y comentarios al autor/es

    • profile avatar

      Sixuan Yan

      Comentó el 30/03/2024 a las 23:25:56

      Thanks for your insightful presentation on the poetry slam movement in Spain.
      I would like to keow what strategies do you propose to increase awareness and support for the poetry slam movement in Spain, particularly from academic, institutional, and journalistic sectors, in order to fully recognize and harness its potential impact beyond the performance aspect and into broader social initiatives?

      • profile avatar

        Jonathan Teuma

        Comentó el 21/04/2024 a las 19:58:13

        Hello Sixuan,

        thanks for your question, and apologies for the late reply. In terms of increasing academic support all I can do really is continue my own research and publication of work in the hope of stimulating further interest in fellow researchers. A fair part of my doctoral thesis focuses on the impact of Proyecto Slam as an educational program, so after laying out the motivations and theoretical framework behind the program I would like to conduct a qualitative investigation into its actual impact on students' grades. This could also be complemented with a study on teachers' attitudes towards and thoughts on the project.

        The question of journalistic awareness about the slam is a tricky one. On the one hand, the press does pay sporadic attention to the slam movement, particularly when something 'big' happens (e.g. when Spanish poets are successful in international tournaments, a particular performance/poem goes viral -very rare events- or when the national finals hit a particular city -annual event-). The problems are that a. the coverage is very disjointed, after 15 years of slam in Spain, press articles referring to the movement still feel it necessary to dedicate a fair amount of lines to the explanation of basic rules and principles and b. The focus is always on the competitive element. It's not that this side of the slam is unimportant and should be ignored but rarely is there any commentary on the actual content of the poems, the performances or other aspects of the slam (workshops, solidarity campaigns, outreach programs, impact on youth/society). The individual local slams themselves to provide a counter balance to this via an extensive use of social media and blogs to disseminate their activities. An increase in academic attention on the subject could also spill over into the journalistic realm and lead publications towards other aspects of the slam (and vice versa I suppose).

        As regards institutional support I am less optimistic. On the on hand there are grants avaibable for projects such as these (Poetry Slam Madrid for instance, has enjoyed the support of the Ministry of Culture's Fomento de la Lectura grant since 2013). However, the sheer amount of bureaucracy and paperwork involved in applying for and subsequently mantining such grants is enough to put of many organisers (who, let's not forget, work on a voluntary basis for the slam and therefore have to also dedicate time to their jobs -not mention family, friends and life in general). It terms of access to public spaces where to hold slams, workshops or other activities, the situation is quite similar, with massive bureaucratical obstacles and very often closed doors from the beginning. Slams are often subject to the whims of the local Culture Councilors who might one year call on a slam for vaious activities and then ignore it for another 5 years (or get replaced by someone with no interest in poetry or the slam at all). Again, hopefully increased and well focussed interest from the worlds of journalism and academia could spur institutions to take the slam movement more seriously and consequently support it further with the provision of public spaces and funds.

        I'm sorry I cannot be more definitive in my answer but I hope I at least tackled some of your concerns.

        Best regards.

        PS jonathan.teuma@urjc.es Just in case you have further doubts or comments.

    • profile avatar

      Dominik Hamm

      Comentó el 20/03/2024 a las 14:12:46

      Thanks for this very interesting and informative talk!
      Is there any data on the most common topics that are being addressed in the poetry presented? I think it would be interesting to compare the most prominent content of the poetry between slams in different cities or even countries.

      • profile avatar

        Jonathan Teuma

        Comentó el 20/03/2024 a las 14:59:36

        Hello Dominik,
        Thanks for your question. As far as I know there is no concrete recorded data, though most slams in Spain have been continually releasing videos of their performers and so the info is out there. However, being a founding memeber of Poetry Slam Madrid and heavily involved with Poetry Slam Spain over the years I can confidently speak of the main topical trends that have been exhibited in the Madrid, and to some extent Spanish, slam scenes. The first years of the slam were heavily tinged by political and social themes that addressed both the hardships being suffered by many as a result of the 2008 economic crisis and the deluge of political corruption scandals that were coming to light at the time. Poems suchs as Dani Oriviz's 'Pim Pam Pum' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAAdfQgUiGM&t=58s or Pablo Cortina's 'Más por menos' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ql9eMKJRNGk come to mind as representative of that time. This trend lasted well into the 2010's and also included a lot of poetry that dealt with issued of migration, evictions and anti-capitalism. The erruption of the Me Too movement in 2017, saw a shift towards gender equality issues on many slam stages across Spain (see Alejandra Martinez de Miguel's Dejanos bailar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_g1hHC-EXQ for example) and in the last few years this has been accompanied by an increase in poets dealing with gender identity and sexual diversity. There also seems, this is just a personal impression, to be more intrsopection in the poems being presented at the moment. Having said all of this, I should underline that these are general trends that I am refering to and the range of subjects dealt with by slammer is much wider.

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