Broadcasting Today’s Best and Brightest Poets
By Emily Jaeger, Features Editor
Although I have been writing poetry since I was two years old, I only first discovered “slam poetry” in college, when a classmate began a slam poetry club, team, and reading series, drawing on performers whom he had met at regional and national high school competitions. Despite my years of writing poetry, I was terrible at performing my own work, and was (laughably) a bit shocked by this new, loud, enthusiastic poetry performance where the authors often used the poem to overcome past struggles or to call out both personal and societal inequities. I soon became aware that I fell into the “literary” camp and that there was a (somewhat false) divide between slam and literary poetry.
While literary poetry finds an obvious home in books and magazines, disseminating slam poetry is a bit more complex because of its performative nature. Button Poetry, a site—not to mention active Tumblr and YouTube series—founded in 2011 by Sam Cook and Sierra DeMulder, dove into the heart of the problem and emerged victorious: creating a series of viral poetry videos with an avid following. While “literary” poets may nostalgically recall the advent of poetry readings, performed in front of large crowds, Button Poetry has helped create a national audience (think hundreds of thousands of views, sometimes millions) for slam poets and some cross-overs along with best-seller records and second printings for their books.
Button Poetry had a simple premise at first: to spread the good news. The Button Poetry team attended regional and national slam poetry competitions, recording individual performances by slam poets and spoken word artists. They began to post these videos to YouTube, and suddenly the poems were accessible to a global audience from a unified source. Button Poetry garnered acclaim and wider recognition in 2013 when one of their videos went viral (quickly jumping to four million views) and attracted the attention of major media such as NPR, Huffington Post, Time, and even Fox News.
In addition to their video series, Button Poetry maintains an active blog. The “Best of Button” feature helps viewers/readers navigate to popular poems, while “Milestones” puts out announcements when poets have reached over one hundred thousand views. One of my favorite features, “Roundup,” is a weekly collection of poetry-related news from around the web: news about featured poets, poems the staff admires, poetry organizations, resources, and videos from around the web.
The blog also implicitly touches on the false dichotomy of “literary” and “slam” poetry—featuring interviews, reviews, and other materials that interestingly focus on poets who have found a home in the more literary end of the field, such as Ocean Vuong and Adrian Matejka. While most of the site is free to access, readers can also choose to subscribe to Button Poetry for an affordable $1/month to access exclusive content and a newsletter.
The one downside to the Button Website seems to be in the formatting—although certain blog posts hint at chapbook and video contests, there is no easy link to these offerings on the website. In order to easily find these offerings it was necessary to search for Button Poetry’s submittable page. The “About” page, where one might expect an overview of the site, doesn’t make clear reference to the paid subscriptions—so many readers might not realize they have the option.
However, despite some wrinkles in the formatting, Button Poetry has made good on its goal of promoting slam poetry (the proof is in the impressive numbers) and it has surely had a hand in making slam poetry and poets recognizable and valued not only in mainstream culture, but also increased the performative nature (and number of cross-overs) in the arena of “literary” poetry as well.
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