Trigger Warning: PUROSLAM (ˈpo͝orō-slam’)
Entering the dimly lit basement of The Korova, one might draw a feeling that they have stumbled upon an underground club of sorts. The crowd is tense, and the tenseness is punctuated with poets and critics alike warming themselves up mentally and physically for the sport that lies ahead. The sport is Slam Poetry, and it’s not unlike the “fight clubs” of legend – only at PuroSlam, there is no first rule.
Poets duke it out on stage with words that are spoken like song, and alternatively linger gracefully or cut through the air like a blade. The contestants compete in rounds judged by audience members chosen at random, with an Olympic style points system. Only the highest scores make it through to the next round – that is, if they make it through their poem at all. Fellow poets and audience members are encouraged to interact, and that means in whichever way they choose. If the audience isn’t picking up what the poet is putting down, they will talk loudly, heckle, and make it clearly known that the poem sucks and should stop. At the end of each night, the poet racking up the highest score is one step closer to being invited to participate in the Individual World Poetry Slam, which hosts the nation’s most talented slam artists each year.
Jason “Shaggy” Gossard tells the story of how PuroSlam came to life with a chuckle. Created in 1999, the idea was birthed from the desires of poets who frequented various open mic venues to have an outlet that was more accepting of the rowdier participants and spectators. In its early days, “fight club” was more than just a metaphor for lyrical punches thrown; the heckling reached violent proportions on more than one occasion. Originally hosted at Re-Verb (which is now Ventura), PuroSlam has called many different establishments home in its 18 years, with some lasting only a short period of time due to the controversial and raucous nature of the slam. It is now held at the Korova, every Tuesday night at 9:30 pm, when parking downtown is free and convenient.
The kind of atmosphere you will experience at PuroSlam isn’t entirely uncommon in slam poetry in general, but the San Antonio slam is notorious for its no-holds-barred, anything-goes environment. There is no topic off-limits, no content deemed too offensive. In the slam poetry world, San Antonio is considered the toughest of venues. Touring poets will stop in to test out the rumors and take on the full PuroSlam experience. Before the contest begins, “Shaggy,” the esteemed MC of the evening’s entertainment, gives a disclaimer: “If you’re going to be offended, leave now.”
The topics that are covered are widely varied. Sexual assault, sexual exploration, police brutality, racism, and immigration are just a few of the more controversial subject matters. Each poet brings their own signature style of spoken word to the stage, and it’s easy to become enchanted by the rhythm and prose of the veteran poets. It is a contest, after all, and delivery matters as much as the words themselves.
If you consider yourself a poet or a poetry enthusiast, or you just like to deliver a good heckling, PuroSlam is an experience not to be missed. If you’ve got the guts – and it does take guts – to stand and deliver an original piece, new poets are always welcome. If you’d rather spectate, the entry fee is just $1 for three hours of gritty, unwholesome entertainment. All entry fees and donations help to send the season’s winning poet to the national competition.
Follow PuroSlam on Facebook to keep up with their scheduled events.