The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America

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How slam performers and their audiences reflect the politics of difference? The cultural phenomenon known as slam poetry was born some twenty years ago in white working-class Chicago barrooms. Since then, the raucous competitions have spread internationally, launching a number of annual tournaments, inspiring a generation of young poets, and spawning a commercial empire in which the line between poetry and hip-hop merge. The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry is the first book to take an in-depth look at slam, shedding light on the relationships that slam poets build with their audiences through race and identity performance, and revealing how poets come to celebrate (and at times exploit) the politics of difference in American culture.With a special focus on African American poets, Susan B. A. Somers-Willett explores the pros and cons of identity representation in the commercial arena of spoken word poetry and, in doing so, situates slam within a history of verse performance, from blackface minstrelsy to Def Poetry. What's revealed is a race-based dynamic of authenticity lying at the heart of American culture. Rather than being just reflections of culture, Somers-Willett argues, slams are culture - sites where identities and political values get publicly re-figured and exchanged between poets and audiences.