If you're heading over to tonight's Womxn 412 Poetry Slam at City of Asylum, don't expect a subdued crowd, folded hands, and polite applause.
“The nice thing about poetry slam is that it's not like a mom-and-pop, Barnes and Noble, very quiet, poetry reading,” says Shanna Alden, co-slam master for Steel City Slam, which is presenting the event with Pittsburgh Poetry Collective. “It's loud and raucous."
Alden is one of fourteen poets participating in Womxn 412 at City of Asylum tonight. Poets span genres, subject matter, and style with one common factor: All are Pittsburghers that identify as female or are gender non-conforming.
The slam’s name pays homage to Pittsburgh’s area code but also serves an important purpose – the number reminds competitors of the rules.
“We call them 412 slams not just because of Pittsburgh area code, but because those are our time limit for each round in that order,” Alden said. “In the first round everybody will do a four-minute poem and then the second round is kind of like a lightning round, and everybody will do a one-minute poem, and then the third round are two-minute poems, so you get something that kind of in between.”
While there is a time limit, poets are free to perform their original work in any style they choose, from rap battle to standard closed verse. When rating the performances, organizers choose audience members to emphasize crowd impact on scoring. To account for any biases the highest and lowest scores are thrown out for all competitors. Attendees that are interested in judging are asked to let organizers know upon arrival. But one does not need to be a judge to participate in the camaraderie.
"There's also call and response. The audience is encouraged to vocalize or make noise when they like something [or] when they really dislike something, [give] the poet on the stage energy so that they can take that energy and redirect it back out to the performance.”
The crowned slam-champion will receive a cash prize and in past years have gone on to represent Pittsburgh’s female poets on the broader poetry stage through touring and competing at regional and national slams.