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The Running Water Poetry Grand Slam this Thursday pits Eau Claire’s hottest poets in a winner-take-all

Once a month, the Acoustic Caf‚ is transformed. Normally considered a serene-Tracy Chapman creeping out of the speakers, sip a vanilla latte while doing your Math 110 homework kind of place, the environment on this special day is much to the contrary. There’s a stage, a microphone and scorecards sprouting from the realms of a howling, unruly crowd.

And it’s all because of poetry.

The Running Water Poetry Slam, approaching its third year, is an informal spoken word contest. Anyone can sign up to read his or her original work, which is scored by random volunteer judges from the raucous crowd.
October, however, is when the poetry fairy blesses slam-goers by providing not one but three slams. The top eight poets from each of two qualifying contests are invited to the showdown: The Fabulous Grand Slam on Thursday.


Running Water Poetry Grand Slam
Time: 7 p.m.
Date: Thursday
Place: Acoustic Caf‚, 505 S. Barstow St.
Cost: Free

Shannon Bodin and Mike Paulus, 1999 UW-Eau Claire alumni, started the Running Water slam in December of 2000 and have been holding slams on the last Thursday of every month since.

“We started the slam originally just to see how it would go over, but the poets and the audience just kept showing up every month so we haven’t ever stopped,” Bodin said.

The pair did not coin the “slam” concept; the events have been held nationally for more than 10 years.

Although the set of rules for slams vary among locations, the Eau Claire affiliate adheres to the basic rules set by Poetry Slam, Inc.

Each poet must read his or her own work and is not allowed props, costumes or musical instruments. Participants are allowed three minutes to read their poems, which are scored by five judges. The best and worst scores are dropped, and the points range from 0-3.

Although there is an air of competition, the slam has kept the atmosphere and audience friendly.

Bodin and Paulus saw a need for a regular open reading opportunity in Eau Claire and said they decided that a performance-based, in-your-face format would break misconceptions about poetry readings and poets in general.

“We feel people need a reason to write,” Paulus said. “By providing a stage, an audience and a laid-back no-pressure atmosphere, we give them that reason.”

The “if you set out the stage, poets will come” strategy has proved effective. Every month, poets of all ages, from elementary students to their teachers to university professors, show up to share their work.

“Our slam has evolved into a place where poets can read any kind of poem in any style and receive just as much respect as the next writer,” Bodin said.

Ken Szymanski, an English teacher at South Middle School has read at, and won, several slams. He values the slam as a writing outlet for non-university students.

“It’s the most diverse and successful open mic spoken word event in the area,” Szymanski said. “The poetry slam motivates me to write every month.”

For many participating writers, the slam is their first or only chance to publicly share their work.

“We know that there is a whole group of writers in Eau Claire, both young and old, who for the most part, remain ‘untapped,’ ” Bodin said.

“We are slowly reaching those writers, as well as the closet poetry junkies who just want to listen. They’re swarming out of the woodwork.”

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