A poetry jam is not a poetry slam. Keep that in mind.
First of all, unlike a slam, a jam is a little less intimidating. You won’t hear any booing or hissing; no one heckles or yells at contestants.
A jam is more like a celebration of poetry, a time for people to gather and encourage creativity, says Lucie Portee, the public relations liaison for Negro Business and Professional Women, which will sponsor a poetry jam in honor of Black History Month at the Allen County Public Library.
"It’s still a challenge," Portee says. "But we want a friendly environment. That’s the biggest difference between a slam and jam. The slam is judged a little more harshly, and I’ve seen that reaction crush some spirits."
Growing up in Chicago, Portee attended her share of poetry slams but never got up the nerve to perform her own material.
"This was my dream growing up," she says. "So I give everyone points for that. It takes a lot of guts to stand up and to speak from the heart and then wait on a response from the audience. I make sure every contestant gets standing applause."
The jam is open to poets from ages 13 to 20 and will include cash prizes for first-, second- and third-place winners. Although there will be judges, audience response holds a lot of sway.
Clapping, shouting and whistles from the audience are not only acceptable, they’re encouraged.
"Some of the scoring is based on obvious reactions from the audience," Portee says. "And everyone makes it so fun. Youth brings out the youth in you."
The poetry jam, now in its second year, will include 28 contestants. Among them will be poets, rappers, singers and even a mime.
"Last year we nearly packed the library’s auditorium," Portee says. "And it’s grown this year. There just is no better way to challenge our youth than to allow them the opportunity to show their talents and creativity. And it’s always a lot of fun, too."