A comment that I keep receiving after performances is that I “sound right” when I perform slam poetry because of my American accent. I’ve been told by multiple people that my slam performances sound “authentic” since they’re done in an American voice, so lately I’ve been trying to sort out the cultural factors underlying that perception and the implications for my poetry practice as an American performing abroad.
Slam poetry originated in the U.S. and the infrastructure to support large-scale slam competitions is the most strongly developed there. In the U.S. exist the major television and radio outlets for slam poetry (Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, NPR’s Snap Judgment, etc.), as well as world-famous slam venues (the Bowery, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, etc.), and the U.S. National Poetry Slam is a major annual event supported by its own non-profit organization, Poetry Slam Inc. Due to the globalizing effects of the Internet, many slammers around the world learned the craft by watching American slammers on YouTube. This leads to an association of the slam genre itself with American culture and with the American voice (although, of course, there are myriad “American voices”: here I refer to the American accent as opposed to an English, Scottish, Irish, or other English-language accent). So, to some people, slam poetry sounds “proper” and “correct” when done in an American accent because it’s being performed by a member of the culture where it originated. Continue reading