The Slammers

Shane Hawley and Dylan Garity on defending our poetry-slam dominance

Video of Hawley and Garity slamming Watch our video of Hawley and Garity slamming at

Q. What exactly is a poetry slam?
Dylan Garity: It’s competitive poetry. The audience ultimately decides who wins, so everyone on stage is trying to win the audience over—much like standup comedy.

Shane Hawley: All I do is tell jokes. If you’re not thinking about the audience and trying to connect, you may as well be onstage reading your diary.

Q: You’ll both be in Boston this month, representing Minnesota at the National Poetry Slam, though for different teams.
DG: As silly as competitive poetry sounds, the contest element makes it fun for an audience to go hear poetry—and makes it fun for us to write. We want to win!

SH: Dylan, we’ve won two years in a row. You have a better chance of taking eighth place in Olympic bobsledding.

Q. Why are Minnesotans so good at slam poetry?
DG: We’re nice—veterans help out newcomers here. Also, we focus on rewriting, which a lot of poets gloss over.

Q. Would the kind of poetry we memorized in high school be good slam material? 
SH: You have time to contemplate a written poem. At a slam, you have a very short time to make a crowd listen. My inspiration is more likely to come from George Carlin than Sylvia Plath.

DG: I think there’s more overlap between slam poets and page poets than you’d expect. And there are poets who are just incredible performers and it hardly matters what they’re talking about.

Q: What makes for a winning poem?
DG: It doesn’t have to be true, but it has to seem true—there has to be truth in it.

SH: You either have to draw on something real or fake it really well.

DG: To me, if you can write a poem that moves the audience—that says something real about an experience, even if it’s one you’ve never had—that’s successful art.

St. Paul defends its National Poetry Slam title in Boston from August 9 to 13. Learn more at

Video of Hawley and Garity slamming Watch our video of Hawley and Garity slamming at