Slam poets have made strides to reignite their community art form, restructuring for the current pandemic by hopping onto the virtual bandwagon. However, Westminster College Slam Club President Enan Whitby said he has his doubts about slam poetry’s survival.
“The pessimist part of me sees [the pandemic] as the death of slam,” Whitby said. “Everything’s virtual, but it’s just been open mics. I haven’t seen any competitions happening virtually, and depending on how you define slam, that takes the slam out of slam, making it performance poetry.”
Initial impacts of COVID-19 on slam
Last semester, the slam poetry community at Westminster shut down its usual operations because of COVID-19. By the end of March, there were no virtual meetings, anticipated events were canceled and the club’s activity consisted mostly within the realm of Google Docs.
Westminster alum and previous Slam Poetry club interim president Melissa Salguero recounted her experience as the club came to its halt.
“It was a very jarring and sudden disconnect,” Salguero said. “Individuals who I had shared space with, all the planning and work, were gone.”
She said she felt a lack of control as her artistic integrity was jeopardized by the pandemic.
“I didn’t have words for it,” Salguero said. “I didn’t want to write about the pandemic, but writing about anything else seemed to be robbing myself of my feelings coming to terms with all the sudden changes and loss I experienced.”
As a new semester unfolds, Whitby — the club’s current president — shared plans to rekindle the art form on campus.
“With everything moving virtual, I have more of an opportunity bringing out-of-state poets in,” Whitby said. “So it’s a blessing and a curse.”
On the other hand, Salguero still had questions concerning the virtual onset of poetry.
“How do we account for space?” she said. “How do we make it accessible?”
Looking to the future, Whitby said he hopes poets across the world can “use this as an opportunity to completely change the way that slam happens — make it more accessible.”
While reflecting on what slam poetry used to be, Whitby said there are opportunities for growth within the new virtual landscape.
“The hopeful part of me sees this move to virtual as an opportunity for us — as a whole community — to look at what was working, what wasn’t, and what is working now and what isn’t,” Whitby said.
At the end of it all, as virtual poets from all over gather on Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams meetings and Discord chats, Whitby said the community is stepping into a new world and waiting to see what will happen.
“Everyone’s just… waiting,” he said. “Waiting and seeing.”