Slam poets geared up to do battle
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Slam poets geared up to do battle

And the bush poets will be ready to rhyme-ble, too, Philip O'Brien writes

Whether it's rhyming poetry or hip-hop, bush ballads or shopping lists, you're welcome to be part of poetry slam at the National Folk Festival this year.

Poetry slam is an informal competition in which anyone is invited to read or recite their original work, which is then judged by selected members of the audience. It's a format which began in Chicago in the 1980s, an initiative of poet Marc (''So What'') Smith. Since then, its popularity has spread across the world.

This year's festival poetry slam is being coordinated by Adam Hadley, a regular performer in, and organiser of, slam events in Canberra over the past few years. A winner of the Woodford slam in 2008, he has also been an ACT representative at the National Poetry Slam competition.

Although the edgy nature of poetry slam as an art form might suggest a leaning to styles such as hip-hop, Hadley says that its range is much wider. ''The whole idea of slam is that it's an open interpretation,'' he says. ''So long as it's the performer's own work and lasts just two minutes, then people are welcome to do any style that they like and with any content.''

And that includes more traditional forms of poetry, such as bush ballads. In fact, in addition to the main poetry slam event at 9pm on Sunday, in The Majestic tent at the festival, Hadley says there will also be a Slam Poets vs Bush Poets event at 1.30pm on Friday, also in the tent. This will comprise four poets from each genre presenting original works, each lasting three minutes.

''This is a concept we've borrowed from the Woodford Folk Festival in Brisbane. And the experience there was that the bush poets more than held their own. In fact, they smashed it. They did some really amazing work.''

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Hadley is also coordinator of the fringe festival, which is centred on The Majestic, a circus tent on the main oval at Exhibition Park, and has become an important part of the National Folk Festival over the past three years. The concept of the fringe is to create a sense of community among performers and audience members, he says, not merely for events such as poetry slams but also for bands, circus-style performances and vaudeville.

The poetry slam event - more formally known as Bad! Slam! No! Biscuit! - has been a popular event in previous years at the festival and, reflecting its more liberal content, is held at night so that contributions don't need to be monitored. The more family-oriented Slam Poets vs Bush Poets is held in daytime hours.

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''Both events have a crazy, intense atmosphere,'' Hadley says. ''The audiences get really involved, yelling and cheering. Just seeing first-time performers getting up on stage and being supported by the audience is a great experience.''

■ Poetry Slam at The Majestic, National Folk Festival on Sunday at 9pm; Slam Poets vs Bush Poets also at The Majestic on Friday at 1.30pm. Inquiries: Festival Office on 6262 4792