Category Archives: Slam For Your Life

Slam For Your Life Highlights

The Word N Sound Live Literature Company in collaboration with the British Council Connect ZA presented the first annual Slam For Your Life National Slam Poetry Competition, with the finals being held on the last day of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

The winner, Koleka Putuma, has a bright year ahead in performance and recording opportunities.

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Dear aspirant slam poet…some tips from those who know slams

There are few platforms that force a poet to sharpen their craft better than the Word N Sound Open Mic Poetry Slam League. Each month, the most talented of artists go up against each other in SA toughest poetry competition in a quest to be crowned King/Queen of the Mic.

We ask those who know the nature of slams best to share their tips for any aspirant slam poets ahead of the first Slam For Your Life National Slam Finale at the National Arts Festival this Sunday.

What 3 tips do you have for any aspirant slam poet?

Masai: Read. Your writing should always be honest. Think outside the box and learn to creatively break the rules.
Lucas: Don’t be too haste to write, it’s quality over quality. Vven if you didn’t make it to the Top 5 or win a slam competition, don’t be too hard on yourself. Always come out as yourself in every slam. Never let anything cloud who you really are, because you are telling “your” stories.

Dikson: Be original. If you’re inspired by someone, great, but don’t mimic them or translate their stories into your tongue. The most exciting poets feed off of themselves, not others.

Perform as much as you can. I’ve gone through periods of not performing for months over the last few years, whilst it’s good to take a break you’ll always be at your peak when you write and perform frequently, it’s a cycle. That said, we’re all built differently, I know I could dedicate a lot more time to my art, I suppose it’s important too then to recognise your weaknesses and build on them if you can.

Be open to other forms of art though, I feel that slamming’s biggest lesson to me has been that it isn’t everything, it’s pushed me towards the written word and photography and taught me about the synergy between art forms and the purity of art and artists.

Mutle:
Read books out aloud, it helps with articulation. It’s not always necessary to follow other slam poets avidly and memorize their works. I feel less copy cat artworks are born when we find our art in spaces other than the spaces where we hang it. Find poems in how your nail grows, a child’s way of communication before their vocab falls in place, the poetry of seasons and study NATURE!!! Also, learn how to go against your writing style.

Xabiso: Hone your craft – practice every day, learn the rules and bylaws, listen and read other poets and writers. Know the judging criteria and your audience. Breathe, relax, enjoy yourself.

SFYL: Become a slam poet in five steps

Gayle Danley offers five steps to being a slam poet — while being downright poetic in the process.
Lesson by Gayle Danley, animation by TED-Ed

With enough passion and practice, becoming a slam poet is within your reach. Explore a distant memory on paper, then read it out loud. Edit. Try reading it out loud again, and add your finishing touches.

Who is Gayle Danley?
Danley

Gayle was born in New York City, and at age 8 months, moved with her family to Atlanta, Georgia. She won her first public speaking contest in 7th grade and studied broadcast journalism at Howard University’s School of Communications where she graduated cum laude. After working as an assistant magazine editor for the National Rifle Association, she left Washington, DC to study Radio, Television and Film at Syracuse University, earning a Master’s Degree. It was not until after she finished school that she learned about Slam poetry. She embraced it almost immediately won the 1994 National Individual Slam Poet in Ashville, NC just months after being exposed to Slam poetry. In Heidelberg, Germany, she became the 1996 International Slam Poet Champion.

Feeling blessed to be able to share her talent and motivational words with audiences across the country, Gayle launched her one-woman show, “Brilliance,” touching thousands with her Slam Poetry workshops, lectures, performances and speeches. Gayle has published three books: “Naked,” “Soulfull—A Slam Poetry Study Guide,” and “Passionate—Poems You Can Feel.”

In addition to her motivational speaking and college performances, she has maintained a constant tour of elementary and secondary schools, helping students with traumatic experiences and teaching workshops on Slam poetry to all age groups. A feature story on Slam poetry was presented on the CBS show, 60 Minutes in 1999, which spotlighted her classroom work and riveting performance. Her keynote and lecture series fuses her poetry with the ability to touch her audience through real life experiences, leaving a lasting emotional message with her audience.

Gayle’s explosive style combines movement and emotion as she performs her magic on the audience, sweeping them up in her words as she addresses and explores contemporary issues.

Recent clients include: George Washington University, Massachusetts College of Art, University of Texas at San, Antonio, Clemson University, Alonzo Crim HS – Atlanta GA, South Brunswick HS – South Brunswick NJ, “Out of the Box” arts conference for artists and educators under the NYS Alliance in Binghamton NY, Jamestown Community College, University of Baltimore, Delaware Valley Institute for the Arts Teacher Conference, The Rome Art and Community Center artist spotlight and The Kitchen Theatre Presents Women in the Arts Event.

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SFYL: The history of Slam Poetry

In 1984, construction worker and poet Marc Kelly Smith started a poetry reading series at a Chicago jazz club, the Get Me High Lounge, looking for a way to breathe life into the open mike poetry format. The series’ emphasis on performance laid the groundwork for the poetry which will be exhibited in slam.

Smith approached Dave Jemilo in 1986, the owner of the Green Mill (a Chicago jazz club and former haunt of Al Capone), with a plan to host a weekly poetry competition on the club’s slow Sunday nights.

Jemilo welcomed him, and on July 25, the Uptown Poetry Slam was born. Smith draws on baseball and bridge terminology for the name, and instituted the basic features of the competition, including judges chosen from the audience and cash prizes for the winners. The Green Mill evolved into a mecca for performance poets, and the Uptown Poetry Slam still continues nearly 15 years after its inception.

The first National Poetry Slam was held in 1990, and has become an annual event in which teams from cities across the United States compete at events in a host city. Slams have spread all over the world, with slam scenes in Hawaii, Ireland, Nepal, Canada, Germany, Sweden, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Austria, Israel, Ukraine, Russia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, just to name a few.

Definition of Slam Poetry: A competitive poetry performance in which selected audience members score performers, and winners are determined by total points. Simply put, poetry slam is the competitive art of performance poetry.

In a typical competition, all poets perform one poem in the first round. Based on the scores they receive, the top-scoring poets go on to the second round, and from that pool, a smaller number of the highest-scoring poets in the second round go on to the third and final round.

While the specifics vary from slam to slam, certified slams adhere to this basic structure, insuring that poets must seek to make immediate connections with the audience in order to continue on. Cash prizes or other prizes are offered to the winner as further impetus for performing well. In most cities, the slam series culminates with a final slam at the end of the season to determine which poets will represent the city at the National Poetry Slam.

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SFYL: ‘Competition is another opportunity for growth’ – Koleka Putuma

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Koleka Putuma is heading to the National Arts Festival to represent the Western Cape in the Slam For Your Life National Poetry Slam in July. She says although competition is not her thing, she views it as another opportunity for growth.

It’s official! Your province has chosen you to represent them at the first ever Slam For Your Life National Poetry Slam at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Now, how does that feel?
I am nervous and excited. I think if I start going into “what an honour and blessing it is” I might just sound pretentious so I’ll just stick to nerves and excitement for now.

What was your strategy to get all the many votes that you did?
I shared the link on Facebook and Twitter, asked people to click on the link, watch the video and share with their people. I may have spammed some people’s inboxes actually.

What are you most looking forward to and what are you not looking forward to at all?
I am looking forward to meeting the other finalists from other provinces. I am so amped to be attending workshops where we’ll be mentored and given tools on the business aspect of this craft. I have recently discovered just how restless any form of competition actually makes me, perhaps if there’s anything I am not too keen on it’s the “competitive” component of the experience. But it’s another opportunity for growth I suppose, and this puts me at ease a little bit.

Given the chance to speak to sponsors like the British Council who make such projects possible, what would you say to them, as an artist?
This is the sort of conversation you’d hope to have in person. I guess I am interested in the production of published text and the spoken word as a tool for social change and collectivism. In my final year of study I’ve come to realise how big a constraint funding actually is in the context of South African art.

I’d be interested in the British Council funding a project that would spark a movement wherein artists can establish a space for emerging and established artists to engage each other on the mechanics of the creative and professional aspects of the poetry ‘industry’ both on and off the stage. I would envision this space, whether set in one or several locations, as providing emerging artists the opportunity to be mentored by established poets; and supporting established poets in whatever regard they may require it. Ultimately, the movement would aim to discover and cement sustainable methods of developing artists and their work so that projects, festivals, events, and even their creators, have staying power. It would be set up as a poetry centric agency and use a similar model to that of “The Strivers Row” and “Write Bloody Publishing”.

I’m keen on the idea of a company or a housing system that provides stability for poets in South Africa.

 Word N Sound is looking to expand our national footprint. Do you haveany ideas around how poets and poetry movements across the country can work together better?
For as long as movements and poets are willing to collaborate; and communication channels remain open, I think that’s possible. Poetry, as a movement in this country, could do with more communication and collaboration. By this I’m referring to more than the act of one poetry-collective taking their project to another city and setting up their event there, but actually getting the locally based movements involved in a collaborative project. Let’s just start a National House Of Poetry, as suggested in my previous answer. The nitty gritties of that idea need work, but would be well worth the pursuit methinks.

SFYL: “Spoken Word deserves more appreciation” – Page Ngwenya

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Page Ngewnya says he is honoured to have been selected by his province to represent them at the National Arts Festival in the first ever Slam For Your Life National Poetry Slam on 13 July.

It’s official! Your province has chosen you to represent them at the first ever Slam For Your Life National Poetry Slam at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Now, how does that feel?
It is insanely inspiring. I am grateful to KZN for showing that much trust in me and also allowing me the opportunity to go to Grahamstown for the first time.

What was your strategy to get as many votes as you did?
I appealed to close friends and sometimes even total strangers; and pretty much nagged everyone on social networks to vote (to the point of annoyance hahaha). Even live shows were a platform to encourage voting.

What are you most looking forward to and what are you not looking forward to at all?
I am most looking forward to exploring the Arts festival, getting to know the poets from other provinces, and to working with Word N Sound, Connect ZA and the other parties involved. I am not looking forward to the events’ eventual and inevitable end haha.

Given the chance to speak to sponsors like the British Council who make such projects possible, what would you say to them, as an artist?
I am grateful that you have risen to the challenge that so many ignore, and that is the delivery of spoken word to the public and a raising of the awareness of it’s importance. Spoken Word really does deserve more appreciation, so please grow strong, and thank you very much.
Word N Sound is looking to expand their national footprint. Do you have any ideas around how poets and poetry movements across the country can work together better?
Good tings are gwaan! I think it would be beneficial to create an expansive database of performers and organsiers across the country. The establishment of permanent solid branches in the cities Word N Sound visits would be ideal, if not that then at least inspiring the creation of a local poetry movement would lead to there being a market for poetry showcases and poetry product. Frequently revisiting these areas would also maintain the momentum.

SFYL: “I am curious about how the audience will react” – Zewande Bhengu

ZEWANDE

Zewande Bhengu will be representing the Gauteng province at the first Slam For Your Life National Poetry Slam after he received more votes than any other poet from the four participating provinces.

It’s official! Your province has chosen you to represent them at the first ever Slam For Your Life National Poetry Slam at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Now, how does that feel?
For the most part, I am quite excited. I also feel quite inspired by the pressure because I will be carrying myself, Word N Sound, the people who supported me and Gauteng on my shoulders when I step on that stage.

What was your strategy to get the many votes that you did?
Well, after making it to the Top 3 following the Secret Slam, I performed at a number of places (mainly student accommodation and work places) to promote both the slam and raise awareness around the voting process. So by the time voting started, all I had to do was put up a poster at the venues I’d performed to remind them of the Slam and show them how to vote. In addition to all this I sent the link to their social media pages/ profiles. Of course, I also took advantage of relationships with family members and their co-workers.

What are you most looking forward to and what are you not looking forward to at all?
I am mostly looking forward to the audience as I anticipate it will be so different from what I am used to in performing poetry; I am curious about how they will react. I am also looking forward to the workshops because I think I have some room to grow. The spirit of the Festival generally is also something to look forward to, and of course who could forget the weather (The cold is my other half). As for what I’m not looking forward to, to be honest, nothing comes to mind.

Given the chance to speak to sponsors like the British Council, who make such projects possible, what would you say to them, as an artist?
Have more faith in young artists. Sponsors seem so ready to fund and assist people who are already successful and young artists almost always get the short end of the stick. More than that, I think a grand thank you is in order, for making THIS possible. I hope their support can continue into the coming years. Thank you.

Word N Sound is looking to expand their national footprint. Do you have any ideas around how poets and poetry movements across the country can work together better?
I think keeping in communication before, during and after the National Slam would be greatly beneficial. The relationships could be further strengthened by having inter-provincial showcases.

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SFYL: “This will leave a permanent mark on my poetry journey” – Siyabonga Ngcai

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Slam For Your Life finalist, Siyabonga Ngcai, says being a part of South Africa’s first ever national Poetry Slam is a life-changing experience for him.

It’s official! Your province has chosen you to represent them at the first ever Slam For Your Life National Poetry Slam at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. Now, how does that feel?
I feel honoured and quite euphoric. This means a lot and will leave a permanent mark on my poetry journey. I appreciate all the support from the people who voted for me, and I give much respect to them.

What was your strategy to get all the many votes that you did?
I just campaigned on Facebook, but again my people kept on sharing the #WordNSound link with their friends on social networks.

What are you most looking forward to and what are you not looking forward to at all?
I am looking forward to interacting, share ideas, experiences and thoughts with the poets from other provinces. I’d really hate to see anything divisive happen, as I feel we are all poets.

Given the chance to speak to sponsors like the British Council who make such projects possible, what would you say to them, as an artist?
I would give much appreciation to them, as poetry is one of the more marginalized art forms in South Africa. This is a big initiative in terms of South African poetry and literature, and is especially beneficial to young, upcoming poets and writers.

Word N Sound is looking to expand our national footprint. Do you have any ideas around how poets and poetry movements across the country can work together better?
Slam For Your Life is a big start, but I feel it should have included all the nine provinces of South Africa not just four.

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SFYL: Voting is closed!

Voting for the first ever Slam For Your Life National Poetry Slam is now closed.

Keep an eye on Connect ZA’s blog next week to see who we’re taking to National Arts Festival Grahamstown.

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It’s been amazing to see just how much support local poets have from their communities. It warms my heart so thank you, thank you, thank you! Good luck to
– Koleka Putuma, Thabiso Wa Ga Nkoana and Chrystal Williams from the Western Cape.
– Modise Sekgothe, Bhengu Zewande Bk and Kagiso Tshepe from Gauteng.
– Unathi Slasha, Sisonke Papu and Siyabonga Mciana UGqoboz’imbawula Ngcai from the Eastern Cape.
– Nkululeko Page Ngwenya, Khulani Maseko and Mphokuhle Ngcobo from KwaZulu Natal.

May the best poet will. A massive shout out to Connect ZA for the opportunity to showcase all this talent at the National Arts Festival Grahamstown.

SFYL: Voting now open!

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Poetry videos of the 12 finalists will be promoted online and opened to a public vote. A poet with the most votes, from each city, will then qualify for the national finals.

Three elements will add to the total tally of vote.

  • The number of views on each of their videos will be to
  • the number of hits of each poets’ page on the Word N Sound blog and
  • the number of votes they get in the polls.

Gauteng
Modise Sekgothe
Kagiso Tshepe
Zewande Bhengu

Western Cape
Chrystal Williams
Thabiso Nkoana
Koleka Putuma

Eastern Cape
Unathi Slasha
Sisonke Papu
Siyabonga Ngcai

KwaZulu Natal
Page Ngwenya
Ingonyama
Mphokuhle Mphumuzi Ngcobo

View the finalists’ profiles, watch their videos here and vote in the polls below to increase their chance of representing their province and taking part in a workshop with UK poet Lemn Sissay.