Slam poetry has become an increasingly popular mode of self-expression. Naively, I thought slam poetry was just poets talking and reading to other poets in smoke-filled rooms with dim lights. I discretely visited a local New Orleans center for slam performance artists and was blown away. I began to take a deeper look into performance poetry; especially after my interview with spoken word poet EJ Antonio, I became even more curious about the art. I still had questions I wanted to ask and in order to achieve greater perspective on this culturally vibrant art form, I asked an established slam poet. This curiosity led me to interview Perre Shelton, a performance artist, the youngest ever to be featured on Russell Simmons' Def Comedy Jam in 2005. I learned a bit more about slam poetry from his responses about his background and experience with slam poetry as a performance art.
When did you first become involved with poetry?
I began "slamming" in 2003 when I was 15 years old. Initially I was a little rapper, influenced by my uncles and my sister who are all brilliant lyricists. My first rap was "unbelievable"—and it was horrific. However, I kept at it, but found it difficult to maintain a uniform rhythm. This is what I believed rap to be. I participated in talent show in my friend’s back yard in the summer of 2003 where I read my first "rap" which broke what I considered the "rules" of rap at the time. This was labeled poetry, and so that is how I began to identify myself.
By chance, in the following academic term, Fall 2003, my high school, T.F. North High School, was beginning a poetry slam team under the initial guidance of former student Nikki Patin who was already regarded as a poetic mastermind in the Chicago community. I walked into the "audition" with my rap/poetry, surrounded by others who presented haikus, sestinas, ballads and such, feeling a bit out of place. I was picked as an alternate. One of the girls who was on the main team had to drop out so I had my chance. We performed in the Young Chicago Authors (YCA) Youth Poetry Slam "Louder than a Bomb" (LTAB) and lost pretty bad. The strict forms and disciplines didn’t do well (and still don’t) in Slams.
BUT YCA was putting together an alternative team in addition to the winning team to send to Nationals. It would be the All-Star team. They picked me as one of the All-Stars to represent YCA in nationals. So began an exciting career in performance poetry.