When is the last time you stepped outside of your comfort zone? When is the last time you not only stepped out of your comfort zone, but also exposed your wounds, your vulnerabilities, and your triumphs to complete strangers? If you are like me, you haven’t, but the idea that someone could go on stage bundled with nerves, a story, and an unshaken voice makes you wonder about how far back you can truly peel your skin. Since 1990, the Steel City Slam has been welcoming thousands of poets from near and far to expose their bones and speak their truth.
Poets are invited to sign up to perform their poetry to the group on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month at Full Pint in Lawrenceville. Signups begin at 7:45, and the show starts at 8:15. The importance of timelines cannot be overstated seeing as there are only 8 slam spots, and 6 open mic spots available to artists seeking to perform. Performing poets are asked to have three poems lasting three minutes or less prepared to share with the group. Five random audience members will be chosen to help judge the performances of the evening and the winners will receive points for future showcase shows.
Poets are encouraged to perform to bank points to perform in showcase shows or grand slams. Grand slams happen four times a year at City of Asylum at Alphabet City on the Northside. These shows often lead the performing poets onto National Poetry Slam Competitions like NPS. Pittsburgh’s past performing teams have consisted of Shanna Alden, Michael Alden, Kimberly Jackson, and Woodson Carpenter.
Sarah Rose, Nebraska native who found her permanent home in Pittsburgh, has been a part of the Steel City Slam since 2014, and states, “finding poetry slam happened on accident for me”. Sarah goes on to state that the poets and audience members have formed a family that often lovingly refers to attending a slam as “going to church.” This organization allows and strengthens individuals to delve into the truths of the world that they live in, regardless of whether that truth be terrifying, painful, inspiring, or sad.
Artists perform spoken word on a variety of topics. The topics that have been voiced in the past include, but are not limited to, social justice, identity, love, sex, parenting, and more. Every artist is encouraged to present freely to the group and no language or topic is banned from the ‘slam’. Steel City Slam openly welcomes freedom of speech from their poets and their audience members. Poets and listeners often critique, jeer, or encourage other artists based on their work and their performances of the evening.
The Steel City Slam provides perspective to world’s that we are not often exposed to. Sarah Rose states, “I felt connected to a bigger picture for the first time in my adult life. People said things that changed my perspective on the way the world works. Some of it made me angry on the injustices that my friends were suffering.
I spent a week living the entire spectrum of human emotion and at the end I knew that poetry had changed me… not because the world finally heard me, but because I was finally hearing it.”
Poetry slams challenge all involved to take a step back from their own reality and attempt to understand and relate to someone else’s. These are diverse. These are fluid. They represent a variety of individuals from a spectrum of walks of life that offer new truths, problems, and stories.
Are you looking to dive into the emotional and enlightening roller coaster of slam poetry, but you aren't quite sure where to start? Sarah Rose has provided some tips. First of all, it’s important to set a deadline. When are you ideally looking to perform your poetry? (We encourage you to be realistic with this date – do not set yourself up for failure at the very beginning of this journey.) Next, find an open mic night where you will feel comfortable performing, watch a variety of slam poetry artists on Youtube, and begin writing one poem a week (more if you can muster it). Before you go on stage to perform your favorite original piece, edit it FIVE or so minutes before performing. Then… step in. Try not to overthink it – speak your truth and let yourself be vulnerable. Sarah Rose says that all new performers need to remember that they are not alone. Every artist you have watched perform has been in your very position at one time or another, and the “feeling of standing naked on stage… never changes.” You have to just… step in.
If you are looking to start writing, performing, or both, but you just aren’t sure where to start, Steel City Slam hosts workshops several times a year. The best way to find more information regarding these workshops is to signup for Steel City Slam’s mailing list or to follow the organization on Facebook.
Kimberly Jae, New Orleans, LA, native and now Pittsburgh resident, says that the people of Steel City Slam are truly what make this organization so special and integral to Pittsburgh. She states, “I have slammed across the East Coast and in Canada. There are different norms with each. The people at Steel City are probably some of the sweetest and most genuine that I have ever slammed with. They adopt you of sorts. You find yourself instantly with your poetry tribe.”
Want to “go to church” at the Steel City Slam this month and meet the wonderful individuals that both Sarah Rose and Kimberly Jae speak so highly of? Come down to Full Pint in Lawrenceville on October 9th and/or October 23rd to watch or participate.
Photos provided by Sarah Rose.