Inner Ear Poetry Slam

Jul 1, 2017 | 2017 Articles, Arts & Entertainment, Mallory Moad

by Mallory Moad

If I say “poetry,” what comes to mind? Is it a Shakespeare sonnet or The Cat In The Hat? Perhaps it’s a name: Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Jack Kerouac, Gil Scott Heron. We’ve all encountered poetry, in one form or another, at some point in our lives. But what’s the best way to truly experience poetry? How about a poetry slam?


Your host, Bryan Medina

Bryan Medina knows all about poetry slams. In addition to currently serving as Fresno’s Poet Laureate, he is the founder of the local Inner Ear Beat Down Poetry Slam Competition. That isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. I’ll let Bryan explain: “The Beat Down Poetry Slam is a competition between poets for a cash prize. The premise of the show is—can you move the crowd and rock the mic with your words in front of a live audience?” Twelve poets are given three minutes each to read, or recite from memory, original works in two rounds of action. Five judges, chosen randomly from the audience, score the competitors on a scale of zero to ten—with ten being totally awesome and zero being, well, not so much. Points are then deducted for every second gone over the three-minute limit. “The five writers with the highest score in the first round advance to the second round. The person with the highest total score after two rounds wins the cash prize and gets to be called a Slam Champion!” Yes!


Bryan Medina (on right) and spoken-word sidekick, Scurvy

Poetry slams aren’t exactly new. What began in Chicago in 1984 is now happening in a similar format in cities all over the country. Fresno got its first slam in the year 2000 at Kern Street Coffee House in downtown Fresno. “I started it with fellow poet and brother-in-arms, Jay McElvoy,” Bryan says. “We felt at that time we could do something different with the open mic genre, putting creative writing at the forefront.”

Poetry has served different purposes over the centuries. It has been used to educate, record history, entertain, and express political views. For Bryan, writing was a way to cope with difficult personal and social situations when he began journaling at the age of 12. Influenced by the emerging rap culture in the early 1980s, his journal entries transformed into poems. “After awhile I got tired of always trying to have a rhyme scheme” with what he wanted to convey. “I didn’t experience real poetry until high school, through the works of Maya Angelou.” He’s been writing regularly ever since.


Poetry slam at the Galleria in downtown Fresno

But on the third Friday of every month at Fresno’s Bitwise Industries, Bryan encourages others to “step up to the mic, regardless of age, sex, background, or perceived status” and express themselves. Admission is $5 to watch and $5 to slam. Everyone is welcome and all that is required to compete is to read and heed the rules and regulations for the show and sign up on the Slam List on a first-come basis. When all twelve slots are filled, the action begins, and the heat is on.

Bryan and his Inner Ear partner-in-crime, fellow spoken-word artist, Scurvy, contribute to/feed off of the boisterous, crazy excitement in the room. They insist that the work presented by all competitors “must have artistic merit and meaning that can be understood by all,” and along with those five judges, will make sure of that. But in the 16 years of running the slams, Bryan has “only had to kick 3 people off the stage” due to non-compliance of the rules. “I think that says a lot.” The third member of this creative and exuberant team, DJ, Louie Garcia, adds extra flavor to the show with cool music and humorous sound effects. Sometimes, live musicians are included in the festivities as well.


Bryan Medina with musical accompaniment

The slams draw diverse crowds that include high school students and their families, hippies, hipsters, senior citizens, educators, and just plain lovers of poetry and spoken-word. In other words, the community. And judging from audience size, from seventy-five to one hundred on any given night, the community has something to say, and people want to hear it. They read from hard copies, recite from memory or freestyle (make it up on the fly). Their words can be moving, angry, non-sensical, but above all, spoken from the heart.

Bryan Medina wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s called poetry. Check out their Facebook page to learn more.

My name is Mallory Moad and I always have something to say.

Mallory Moad is a visual/performance artist, vocalist in the jazz band Scats on The Sly and a proud Central San Joaquin Valley native.


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