Though it'll probably join the ranks of skateboarding and breakdancing ciphers as one of the hipper, more notable innovations of the late 20th century, slam poetry supposedly started out as a bar game. And it's Great Grandpappy (or "Slam Pappy," rather), according to Oakland Poetry Slam mistress Nazelah Jamison, was Marc Smith, a Chicago construction worker and "bar napkin poet" who was really just some guy. Around 1987, Smith came up with the whole idea of turning a poetry mic into a competition with its own scoring system, mostly because it was the only way to hold people's attention in a bar. Within a few years, these small, "common man poetry"-oriented slams generated a hugely popular scene that became both an artistic movement and a market juggernaut. Suddenly, underground emcees and Def Poetry Jam artists had supplanted the Robert Frosts and Walt Whitmans of the literary canon. Poetry's hipster quotient rose immeasurably.
While it's waning on a national scale, the spoken-word craze remains alive and well in Oakland, home to YouthSpeaks artists Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Ise Lyfe, and Chinaka Hodge, along with such rousing open mics as the Broakland Poetry Slam, Hella at EastSide Arts Alliance, and Mouth Off at the Air Lounge. This week, the folks from Hotwater Cornbread, LLC who launched Mouth Off in 2006 present the Spoken Word Soul Fest at various Oakland venues, including Air Lounge, Club Anton, and Kimball's Carnival. Featuring the talents of Ise Lyfe, GeorgiaMe, Scorpio Blues, Amir Sulaiman, Hunters Point-raised soul artist Martin Luther, and the sublime emcees Bahamadia, Mystic, and Medusa who combine hip-hop swagger with lush balladeer vocals this event also includes panel discussions and workshops to recoup the social and community-building dimensions of spoken word. At Saturday's panel (held from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Oakland Marriott Convention Center), a bevy of poets, emcees, and radio personalities (including Hard Knock host Davey D, emcees Medusa and Mystic, Ise Lyfe, and Queen Sheeba) will discuss such issues as Hurricane Katrina, the Jena 6 case, and the '08 elections. Titled Artists Respond to Chaos, it will serve as a fulcrum for Spoken Word Soul and highlight the event's political impetus. The Spoken Word Soul Fest runs Wednesday through Sunday, November 4, and costs $10-$150. SpokenWordSoulFest.com
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