Michael Baumann
"Creating a Slam Poem"




[Michael getting in and starting car]

Michael practicing in car: The third time I came out to my family...

Voiceover: I'm on my way to Indianapolis. And, as you can tell, I'm frantically rehearsing something. I've been asked to be a feature slam poet. And, while I can't wait to show you the slam poetry performance itself, first I have to show you the steps I took to get there.

[video of Michael and man working and talking, Michael writing]

Man: Like I really like the facts here.

Michael: Yeah.

Man: That'd make a really cool beginning.

Michael: "Oh yeah..."

Voiceover: It all usually starts with something like this. Hey, I'm Michael and sitting next to me is my friend Dan. He's a fantastic poet and we often peer review, collaborate, and brainstorm together. Ricocheting ideas off of one another, inventing, sharpening, germinating, and definitely laughing.

Man: You're only plagiarizing yourself at this point, so...

Voiceover: In this case, we're talking through a few new ideas that I have literally brought to the table. I haven't written anything new in awhile because, you know, grad school. So I have this idea for a new poem about bodies, and lightning, and rhetoric, and all kinds of shit. But I just don't know how to smash it all together yet.

And that's where Dan comes in.

Once I've talked through these ideas with Dan, it's time to set up my writing space. I need to check email, Blackboard, Google Drive, and Facebook, and then find all of the right writing music.

[screencast of Michael opening various applications on computer]

And sometimes I drink coffee. And other times I drink... not coffee.

[video of Michael drinking from mug, drinking from glass]

[sped up video of Michael writing with pen]

First, I write out this huge messy crude constellation of ideas. By hand. Several times. There's just something about the written page. I think because I grew up with that medium that helps me think and map and plan.

And sometimes I get distracted, either by something that cracks me up... Or by texting... Or by taking Snapchat selfies.

Or by making eye contact with this mega-hot guy in a coffee shop. And then side-eyeing him again when I slyly take a drink.

[sped up video of Michael working in coffee shop, looking up]

But I think there's something important about all these distractions, these embodied moments, because they impact the writing process.

[sped up screencast of text appearing on the screen, moving between applications]

Anyway, now it's time to type. By outlining, cutting and pasting, opening new documents to work on a section in isolation before inserting that section back into the main file. Adding line and stanza breaks. Working on different sections--intro, middle, and conclusion in queered chronology.

Opening several tabs at once performing research and folding that research into my prose and poetry.

And when I need a break... I play the piano, which lets me take a break and stimulate other parts of my brain while I let my ideas incubate a little.

[video of Michael playing piano]

But eventually it's back to work. I add and subtract a little bit. I add some line breaks and final touches. But in the context of slam poetry, the writing process is not complete.

[sped up screencast of text in word-processing application]

I still have to perform this piece. So, hours and hours and hours of excruciating memorization. With my pen in hand in case I need to revise any lines or rhythm or rhyme or cut sections for time. Slam poems can only be three minutes long.

[sped up video of Michael walking around room, writing, practicing]

Here I'll add pace and movement and stage directions and hand gestures, all of which I fully consider part of the text of a slam poem.

Then it's time to hit the road... where my jams are.

[video of Michael in car, listening to music and singing along]

I have to sing on the way there to pump myself up and also to practice various rhythms and movements that are important for a slam poem.

Plus it's really fun... obviously.

[video of Michael performing slam poetry]

Michael reading slam poetry: In 1992, two years after I was born...

Voiceover: And when I get to the performance venue itself, it's game time. And I include these moments of performance because the composition process for a slam poem also happens on the stage, as you react, in the moment, to an audience and the audience reacts to you--helping you to co-compose a text, to perform it with you as they boo and laugh and snap, adding modalities and meaning to text, movement, and subtext.

So... there you have it. From brainstorming to writing to typing to memorizing and all of the distractions in between, and finally getting up there on the stage. That's my writing process for a slam poem.

[video of audience clapping and cheering]