In a smoky bar in the mid-'80s, Marc Smith, a construction worker with a need to read poetry, started an open mic for a less-than-enthusiastic crowd. One night, as a particularly bad poet read, an angry patron shouted, "You suck!" In that moment, competitive performance poetry, known as "slam," was born. A surprising and pathetic outgrowth of slam poetry is the ongoing debate between academic and slam poets. Academics view slam poets as a loud and motley crew who spout a corruption of sacred verse. Slam poets (quite cocky in their own right) view the academics as pompous, nose-in-the-air snobs who are afraid to slam because they will get their butts kicked. Then there are just damn good poets, like Zaire Imani, who manage to stand peacefully in the center of this silly debate. Imani -- also known as Mama Blue, is known for unflinching and powerful political verse, such as:
"They wanna see ya like Mumia with your face in your hands and your fate in theirs. While the world via the media Sits and stares As they warm the electric chair with hateful glare a life for an eye Fuck what's fair Can you feel the hate? Can you feel the heat? Strapped down tight to the legal lynch seat of ill intention, as you sing songs of redemption on death row."
Imani delivers her poetry with passion and performance. For the past two years, Mama Blue has calmly staked out a reputation as St. Louis' best slam poet simply by winning every slam she's entered. Last year, while nine months pregnant, she secured a spot on the team representing St. Louis at the National Poetry Slam. In July, she wowed the academics and the crowd with a strong performance at the River Styx Starving Young Poet Series. Last month at the National Poetry Slam in Seattle, she once again flexed her poetry muscles. Although the St. Louis team came in 33rd, Mama Blue scored high enough to compete in the individual finals, reserved for the 10 highest-scoring poets at nationals. Imani came in sixth -- not bad for a poet who, by her own admission, is not really into slamming and started competing just so she could pay her gas bill. With invitations for her to perform pouring in from all over the country, expect to hear Mama Blue's name mentioned in broader poetry circles than St. Louis'.