Sunday, March 22, 2009

Words In Your Face A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

Words In Your Face A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz

This book chronicles the history of a literary movement and performance scene. Slamming started in Chicago, Illinois and then spread all over the country. One of the most prominent scenes is in Manhttan, New York. There is not a whole lot of poetry in this book. There are a few poems from immediately after the 9/11 World Trade Center terror attack. This book focuses on the people, performance spaces, politics, and competition around slams.

Most chapters in this book have in depth interviews. These are complex, informal, and take quite a bit of time to read and think about. Paul Beatty, Beau Sia, Maggie Estep, Stacyanne Chin, Felice Bell, and many other prominent poets are interviewed. In addition, the interviews illustrate the connection between rap and hip hop and poetry slams. Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz interviews Bill Adler a journalist and prominent producer of hip hop records.

Words In Your Face is divided into four sections, the pre-wave, the first wave (1990-1996), the second wave (1996-2001), and the third wave (2001-2007). It also occurs in three primary settings, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, NYC-Urbana, and the Bowery Poetry Club all in Manhattan, New York. I have not been to any of these spaces. I might go some time. All of the spaces are quite famous; the most famous being the Nuyorican Poets Cafe which has become a major tourist destination.

Slam poetry is performance poetry read and judged in front of a live audience. Cristina Aptowicz brings out the performance aspect of the poetry. Many of the black and white photographs throughout the book are of poets performing or of announcements of poetry events. She also mentions television shows like Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam and United States of Poetry. There are films listed as well; Slam, Slam Nation, and Poetry In Motion. I enjoyed watching Poetry In Motion.

In the back of the book, there is a year by year list of New York City Poetry Slam Teams from 1990-2007 which were sent to compete at the National Poetry Slam. This book is poetry as a competitive art. There is quite a bit about politics in the scene. The most famous rivalry between Bob Holman and Miguel Pinero is talked about extensively.

This book took me a couple of weeks to read because of the density of the writing. It has a very informal, conversational tone. Every page is packed with information or personal statements by poets. The people in the book are a very diverse multicultural crowd.

This book would have been better if it had an index. There are a lot of different people mentioned and it is often hard to find the specific mentions without an index. I hope there is one put in for the next printing. I found the book to be unique and not at all like most books written about poetry. It is published in 2008 by Soft Skull Press. Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz is the founder of NYC-Urbana and was on the 2001 NYC-Urbana National Poetry slam team. Her website is

No comments: