In the warm and welcoming atmosphere of the Steel City Slam, audience members snap and hoot as they connect with a piece. “Feel it in your heart; feel it in your pinky toe,” quipped Jude, the emcee for the night.
Steel City Slam is part of the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective and provides writers of all ages a weekly opportunity to share their work. Six to eight poets perform three pieces, about three minutes long, for a friendly competition that occurs during these lively evenings, held every Tuesday at Capri Pizzeria in East Liberty. This spoken-word performance is fast-paced and expressive, with topics ranging from personal experiences and love to cultural and societal issues. After a tradition of using a “sacrificial poet” to set the baseline to calibrate scores, poets earn points following each of their rounds. The three top-scoring poets win prizes and generous rounds of applause. But, as national slam master Allan Wolfe once said, “The points are not the point; the point is poetry.”
All are welcome to participate by performing, judging, or simply listening and enjoying as an audience member. Tabitha, a regular performer, explained that this particular evening was unique; at the same time she and her fellow poets shared with their audience in East Liberty, other Steel City Slam poet regulars were in Georgia representing Pittsburgh at the National Poetry Slam tournament.
Even without the use of props, costumes, or music, slam performances are exhilarating and deep from the heart. Tabitha’s poetry brought to life themes such as self-empowerment and acceptance. Jason, another poet, said he draws from personal experience for inspiration but also makes sure his writing is relatable to a larger audience. For example, in his performance piece he conveyed his personal qualities, hopes, and dreams through a metaphor of a video game character. Sometimes inspiration just strikes, added Torli, a college student studying mechanical engineering. “It’s a great artistic outlet for me,” he said, reflecting on the balance between his analytical studies and his creative writing. He has also drawn on his childhood experiences growing up in Appalachia, reflected in his poignant poem about coal miners.
The casual but energizing atmosphere was full of enthusiastic participants inspired by the words and performances of the poets, and I’d highly recommend attending. Its power to free the soul, ability to impart a rush of inspiration and emotion for both performer and audience, and capacity to touch others may expand your perspectives and invite artistry into your everyday life.