Steamboat Springs Performance poetry elicits a sensory storm of emotion through raw, edgy voices spitting syllables and liberating scribbled words. It is about language without boundaries within the confines of two rounds, and a final round judged only by the noise of impassioned spectators.
The sport of poetry has been embraced and pursued by two-time local poetry slam winner, Paulie Anderson. Fear was no longer a factor as he read his poems to a packed audience at last week's Mud Season Poetry Slam at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.
"I still get sweaty palms, but I don't shake as bad or stutter," Anderson said.
He started slamming in Seattle in 1996 and has been writing poetry for 13 years. Anderson's poetic voice was born in a bar called Eileen's on Capital Hill in Seattle with his "Brutha Chris" over bloody marys and JÃ¤germeister.
"I don't remember the first slam, but I remember that I didn't win," Anderson said.
The competition last week was stiff, and fellow slammer Chrissie Hodges posed a threat. "Oh my God, she was awesome," Anderson said. "I thought for sure she was going to take the prize."
Anderson attributes his victory to his personality and content. "I'm one of those 'look at me' personalities," Anderson said. "It helps to write about topics that people can relate to, and it helps if it is a little bit touchy."
Anderson writes about politics, himself and how he views the world. "I have the hardest time writing about love. It is the most daunting, but I want to write about it the most," Anderson said.
The difference between poetry readings and poetry slams is the originality and performance aspect of it. "Beat poetry is different than regular poetry because of its need to perform. You have to hear it to get the beat of truly spoken word," Anderson said. "The artist reads it as BLAH where you read it on paper as blah."
Anderson noticed that this slam was unlike the past slams in Steamboat that he has competed in. "It was different this time. The poets were well-spoken and confident," Anderson said. "Confidence is the key. Even if you are not well-spoken, you have to project who you are."
Anderson competes in slams for many reasons. "I just like the competition and because I want a gift certificate," he said. "That's how I get all my presents."
Marc Smith started the Poetry Slam in Chicago in 1986 with the idea of giving the audience a voice. It was originally a variety show where the audience was encouraged to boo and hiss if they didn't like the performance and cheer and yell if they did.
"I think people were ready for a new form of experience. Poetry was getting so stuffy, and so many good poets are dead," Anderson said. "I picked it because of the audience participation and its ability to stir emotion."
The lure of the slam is the experience. "It's a really fun rush," Anderson said. "You get all pumped up, and I love being on stage, and this is the venue that works best."
Anderson thinks that the key to winning is having attitude, a distinct style and fresh material. Intonation is essential, but presence is more important than words or rhymes, he said.
The audience is the final judge, and keeping that in mind is crucial. "Look at the audience. Make sure that they see you," Anderson said. "Don't conceal your words -- project them. You have to shoot them out."
The secret to a well-written poem is the power of emotions it evokes. "For a good poem, you have to have love, hate or loathe. It has to have that passion," Anderson said.
"And a little bourbon helps, but a lot of bourbon hinders. If I can't finish the poem after one bourbon, then I start another poem."
Poetry slams have provided Anderson a venue for expression and validation.
"I finally got good at something," he said.
"It was the love of poetry and writing that brought me to Steamboat and to where I am now."