They take their shoes off before they perform- one is barefoot, the other wearing socks.
It only gets crazier from there. Shaquille “A.O.R” Payne and Anderson “Poetically Undefined” Allen are performing slam poetry on the spot- and it comes so easily to them. Sometimes the words rhyme, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they pantomime, shooting pretend bullets as they perform. People hoping to catch dinner at Village Gate watch as they stroll by but for three solid minutes, the two poets ignore everyone and everything, focused on the execution of this poem.
That’s just some of the gut it takes to be a slam poet heading to compete at the national level. The two are part of Roc Bottom Slam, a team of four poets, heading to Denver, Colorado to perform against teams from all over the nation. They begin bouts Tuesdays.
“Slam poetry is a different kind of beast because a lot of people aren’t comfortable with being vulnerable,” – Allen
“I’m excited just to go,” said Marvin “Marvelous Marvin” McCraw. “I never been anywhere like that for my poetry. Honestly with this team is the furthest extent I’ve taken it.”
“In our region we’re well-known,” said Payne who previously traveled to Brave New Voices, a national slam competition for young poets. He said Roc Bottom’s performances at everything from festivals to protests and rallies has gotten them more recognition. “We’re competing now and really seeing how far this can actually go because these people are competing but this is just for fun. They go on tour.”
And while they’re excited to travel across the nation and see poets of all backgrounds and levels, they’re also simply excited to be doing all of this through their art.
Slam Poetry is relatively new to the scene, only a few decades old. The style of poetry is marked by a more passionate execution; poets and performers often sing or yell their words. They may dance or act out parts. It’s a much more dramatic style of poetry.
“When you got a troubled life it’s a lot easier to write it down than keep it in your head,” said McCraw. He added that poetry can be a lot like sanctuary- a protected space where he can share himself easily. “It helps you even find the beauty in the pain and since I had so much pain, I had a lot to write about.”
Simone “Symphonie” Owens, newcomer to the team, also believes in the healing properties of slam poetry. She moved from Syracuse about a month ago and said she hopes to make a career out of her poetry. Like McCraw she thinks more people should try slam poetry saying it’s more accepting than people might think:
“I wish people understood it’s for everyone. It’s not just for the artsy or the creative. It’s like church. You go in and you cry, laugh sing, all of that and it’s just a big church session. For me, that’s what I take out of slam poetry.”
But even if you’re not ready to slam, Payne said you should at least go and become familiar with the space. He stressed however that you have to start with yourself.
“Start with yourself, just start writing in a notebook and get used to really writing and expressing yourself and when you feel that there’s a stirring like ‘I need to share this’ then look for an open mic,” he said, mentioning open mics at Lovin’ Cup on Tuesdays, Clarissa’s on Wednesdays and Equal Ground’s monthly show. However he added that even if you don’t want to perform, it can be good to see these spaces and support the art.
“It’s about coming out. It’s not even a money thing. Yeah, give if you can, but more than anything come out and actually support a growing movement,” he said.
Learn more about Roc Bottom Slam Team and poetry shows at Facebook.com, including their upcoming performance in the Xerox Rochester Fringe Festival Sept 16.