Poetry Slams Do Nothing To Help The Art Form Survive

slam boxers

Poetry is dying. Actually, it’s pretty dead already for all intents and purposes and the rise of performance poetry slams is doing nothing to help matters. I know, I used to be a performance poet.

The first poetry slam competition was held in Chicago in 1984. Named after a brutal wrestling move, the slam saw poets perform original pieces for a live audience who voted for a winner. The early slam poets railed against what they pejoratively referred to as page poetry. They demanded, along with Bukowski, that poetry “have guts”. They wanted to democratise poetry and drag it from the academic ivory tower.

But there never was an ivory tower. There was no cabal of posh people who had purposely made poetry unintelligible. Poetry has always been words on a page, open to anyone. The politicisation of art and the drawing of sectarian lines continues to damage poetry to this today.

Like sipping a fine wine, reading poetry cannot be rushed. It reveals its pleasures over time, rewarding the careful reader with something new and beautiful each time. It runs bang against the grain of our quick-fix culture. It is already a lost discipline. I have taught poetry to hundreds of children aged seven to 14 and not one of them could name me a poet beyond Shakespeare.

A further nail in the coffin is the rise of poetry slams. I have performed at many slams and the audience is almost always half drunk and if you want to win you have to pitch your poem pretty low. The result is a scene rife with the poetic equivalent of nob jokes – and plenty of actual nob jokes.

The only division in poetry is between those people willing to take the time to read it and those who will not. When Emily Dickinson said only “the fairest” may enter her house of “possibility”, she wasn’t being elitist –she was putting up a barrier against the lazy.

Most slam poems are not strong enough to be published in even minor poetry journals. And that’s fine; maybe they don’t want to be. Then why attack the poems that do? It’s like there is an oedipal urge to kill the art that made it. We cannot allow slam poetry to replace the role poetry plays in our lives. The threat is there.

There is a school of thought that thinks slams are the answer. The slams I have attended have little to do with poetry and everything to do with a Darwinian death match where the audience picks the winner like some blood-crazed Circus Maximus mob.

Poetry, like all art, whispers its message and we must learn to slow down and take the time to hear it.




Edward Thomas : The Poetry Foundation

Edward Thomas : The Poetry Foundation.

Edward Thomas


Edward Thomas



Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Source: Poems (1917)

Despite affinities with the Georgian movement of the early twentieth century, Edward Thomas’s verse consistently defies classification. Like the work of his Georgian contemporaries, his verse displays a profound love of natural beauty and, at times, an archaic use of diction. However, Thomas’s personalized voice and intensity of vision give his poetry an artistic force which the Georgians never approached.

Thomas was born of Welsh parents in London. His father was a railway clerk who neglected his six sons in favor of politics and intellectual pursuits. Temperamentally, he was the opposite of his son, and the two disagreed on nearly all matters, including Thomas’s desire for a literary career. Much later Thomas was to portray this adversarial relationship with his father in the poem “P.H.T.” In 1894, while attending St. Paul’s School, Thomas met the successful literary journalist James Ashcroft Noble, who encouraged Thomas in his literary ambitions and was instrumental in getting his first book, The Woodland Life, accepted for publication. Shortly thereafter, while still a student at Lincoln College in Oxford, Thomas married Noble’s daughter, Helen. Faced with the necessity of supporting a growing family, Thomas began accepting assignments of all sorts from London publishers. Much of the work he received was uncongenial hack-work, but Thomas wrote steadily, sometimes producing as many as three books a year. His work included essays, natural history, criticism, biographies, reviews, fiction, introductions, and topographical descriptions. Thomas wrote his first poems in 1914 at the urging of the American poet Robert Frost. Two years later his first book of verse, Six Poems, was published. Due to Thomas’s fear that it would be unfairly dismissed by the critics if it were published under his own name, this collection was published under the pseudonym of Edward Eastaway. These six were the only poems that Thomas lived to see in print: in 1915 he enlisted in the infantry and was killed two years later in the Battle of Arras, while the first edition of his Poems was being prepared for press.

Thomas’s many reviews and critical studiesisuch as Richard Jefferies, Walter Pater,and The Feminine Influence on the Poetsirepresent the best of his prose work. Much of Thomas’s prose was written according to the demands and deadlines of his publishers. Many critics believe that Thomas wasted his talents on hack work, and the author himself felt that his artistic potential was being destroyed under the strain of constant production. In spite of these circumstances, Thomas developed into a respected critic, and his reviews for various newspapers and journals were widely quoted. All of Thomas’s criticism has been praised for its lucid style, precision of speech, and intelligent observations. Vernon Scannell has said that Thomas’s “verse criticism shows not merely an intuitive awareness of what poetry should be about, but an intelligent familiarity with refinements of technique and a fine sense of the historical continuity of English literature.”

While an accomplished prose writer, Thomas is of far more interest for the poetry which he began to write relatively late in his career. From his first poems, Thomas demonstrated, according to John Lehmann, an “intensity of vision” which set him apart from his contemporaries. His earliest poems bear the influence of Frost in their treatment of nature and in their simple style. However, Frost’s influence was to decrease as Thomas discovered his own personal voice. Numerous critics, including Jeremy Hooker and J. P. Ward, have stressed the two principal themes in Thomas’s verse: one, the presence of war and its effect on the individual; the other, the poet’s profound sense of solitude. Though he wrote only one war poem per sei“This Is No Case of Petty Right or Wrong”ithroughout his poetry Thomas subtly portrays the influence of war on the natural order. Thomas’s sense of solitude has led Ward to consider him an early existentialist. Though this might be an isolated point of view, most critics agree that Thomas remains appealing to the modern readeriwhile many of his contemporaries have fallen out of favoribecause his poetry expresses an awareness of individual alienation commonly associated with existentialism.

Such prominent critics and authors as Walter de la Mare and Aldous Huxley have called Thomas one of England’s most important poets. In recent years much serious consideration has been given to Thomas’s work. Most critics would agree with Andrew Motion, who states that Thomas occupies “a crucial place in the development of twentieth-century poetry” for introducing a modern sensibility, later found in the work of such poets as W. H. Auden and Ted Hughes, to the poetic subjects of Victorian and Georgian poetry.




  • (Under pseudonym Edward Eastaway) Six Poems,Pear Tree Press, 1916.
  • Poems,Holt, 1917.
  • Last Poems,Selwyn & Blount, 1918.
  • Collected Poems,Selwyn & Blount, 1920, Seltzer, 1921, enlarged edition, Ingpen & Grant, 1928, reprinted, Faber & Faber, 1979.
  • Two Poems,Ingpen & Grant, 1927.
  • The Poems of Edward Thomas,edited by R. George Thomas, Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • Edward Thomas: A Mirror of England, edited by Elaine Wilson, Paul & Co., 1985.


  • Richard Jefferies, His Life and Work,Little, Brown, 1909.
  • The Feminine Influence on the Poets,Secker, 1910, John Lane, 1911.
  • Maurice Maeterlinck,Dodd, Mead, 1911.
  • Algernon Charles Swinburne, A Critical Study,Kennerley, 1912.
  • George Borrow, The Man and His Books,Dutton, 1912.
  • Lafcadio Hearn,Houghton Mifflin, 1912.
  • Walter Pater, A Critical Study,Kennerley, 1913.
  • Keats,Dodge, c.1916.
  • A Literary Pilgrim in England, Dodd, Mead, 1917, Oxford University Press, 1980.


  • Horae Solitariae,Dutton, 1902.
  • Beautiful Wales,Black, 1905.
  • The Heart of England,Dutton, 1906.
  • The South Country,Dutton, 1909, Tuttle, 1993.
  • Rest and Unrest,Dutton, 1910.
  • Light and Twilight,Duckworth, 1911.
  • The Last Sheaf, Cape, 1928.


  • The Woodland Life(essays and diary), Blackwood, 1897.
  • Oxford,Black, 1903.
  • Rose Acre Papers,Brown, Langham, 1904.
  • Windsor Castle,Blackie, 1910.
  • The Tenth Muse,Secker, 1911.
  • Celtic Stories,Clarendon (Oxford), 1911, Clarendon (New York, NY), 1913.
  • The Isle of Wight,Blackie, 1911.
  • Norse Tales,Clarendon, 1912.
  • The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans(novel), Duckworth, 1913.
  • The Icknield Way,Dutton, 1913.
  • The Country,Batsford, 1913.
  • In Pursuit of Spring,Nelson, 1914.
  • The Life of the Duke of Marlborough(biography), Chapman & Hall, 1915.
  • Cloud Castle and Other Papers,Dutton, c.1923.
  • The Childhood of Edward Thomas(autobiography), Faber, 1938.
  • The Friend of the Blackbird,Pear Tree Press, 1938.
  • The Prose of Edward Thomas,edited by Roland Gant, Falcon Press, 1948.
  • A Pilgrim and Other Tales(short stories and essays), Tuttle, 1992.
  • Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds (fairy tales), Duckworth, 1915.


  • The Letters of Edward Thomas to Jesse Berridge: With a Memoir by Jesse Berridge, Enitharmon Press (London, England), 1983.
  • Letters to America, 1914-1917, Tragara Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1989.
  • Letters to Helen: And an Appendix of Seven Letters to Harry and Janet Hooten, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 2000.




  • Leavis, F. R., New Bearings in English Poetry,Chatto & Windus, 1932.
  • Thomas, R. George, Edward Thomas: A Portrait, Oxford University Press, 1985.