On Saturday, my roommate and I popped open a bottle of rosé champagne, a really well-made batch of biscuits roses (a local specialty made by adding pink food coloring to the cookies that traditionally accompany champagne), and then headed off to a poetry slam she had seen advertised on flyers. Though I was skeptic about French slamming, it ended up being one of the better slam sessions I’ve been to, and I must say that the French language and metaphorical mentality work really well with the genre. It could have been the half bottle of champagne talking, or my not-fully-developed French ear, but all the poets were great and also very diverse: we heard a chic white-haired elderly woman, a boy rapper who looked about ten and a guy with brown dreadlocks who was introduced as “the handsome blonde from the East.” A kindly woman sitting next to me (I always consider it kind when strangers put up with listening to my accent) and I discussed the evolution of slam poetry, and how in rating the poets we had to consider their performance and the verbal subtleties of their work as well as its content. This is where the elderly woman lost: though a beautiful poet, she was not really a slammer. The boy rapper came in third place because he was adorable, but also because of the clever game he played with consonance. Blonde prince/brown dreadlock guy won because his performance was just spectacular, and he spun a cute little metaphorical tale about rabbits that was also a pretty serious social critique.
The story behind this monthly slam night in Troyes is really fascinating: just a bunch of people of all ages, from five to seventy-five, who like slam and get together once a month to recite or listen or just to drink. They also host writers workshops, rotating through each others homes, and if I ever feel comfortable enough to write in French, I’ll let you know what it’s like to do so in a French writer’s home. Probably awesome and hopefully just like the cliché image of my mind. I had no idea there was such a passionate poetic group in this random town, but I’m really excited to have found it. The host for the evening announced that the three winners from the night’s performance would travel to Brussels in March to compete on behalf of the group. Apparently, these two slam groups in different countries chanced upon each other and decided to establish an international slam competition. The fee to belong to the group in Troyes is just 1 euro/year, and after that you are welcome to perform at any slam night and perhaps earn a spot in the Belgian tournament.
My favorite part about the night was that I’ve never seen anyone in the French literary world acting so, well, American (though still with style.) The French literature teachers at my high school are all pretty serious and willing to talk metaphysics, but I’m not sure I could convince any of them to get up and slam. I always pictured French literaries as all-black-wearing, dark-shadow-looming, society-is-the-doom-of-art types, but this night was just a gathering of people from all walks of life, very young (in a bar!) to not so young, who simply wanted to share in their passion. A guy sitting next to us at the slam night asked us if slam events in the US are more Eminem-esque, and I had to laugh at that image, because we had both clearly stereotyped the other’s craft into something ridiculous. It turns out that language is the only difference between French and American slam nights, and even that can be ignored with a good drink in hand. And the Eminems out there? They’re not even in the States; they’re in Troyes, France and they’re ten years old, chaperoned by their moms to the local poetry slam.