The Hermeneutics of Poetry Slam: Play, Festival and Symbol


  • W. John Williamson University of Calgary



hermeneutics, Gadamer, poetry, Poetry Slam, play, festival, symbol


In this paper, I discuss Poetry Slam events as hermeneutic encounters. Gadamer’s analysis of play, festival, and symbol form the theoretical basis of the discussion. Exemplary data include my research into aspects of the history and ritual of Slam as well as my experiential data as a spectator, coach of a Poetry Slam team of adolescents who compete in a provincial tournament for young poets, and as a Slam performer. I contend that, despite Slam’s occasional “silliness,†occasional problems of quality and fair play, and the insistence of many academics that it is not a worthwhile celebration of literature, Poetry Slam has the potential to create meaningful connections between diverse communities and tarry over language as a hermeneutic event. I note that, in an era where text is generated with increasing rapidity while our abilities to appreciate language as an event or as a means of connecting with each other are undermined, Poetry Slams might be the kind of festival we need to seek relief from these trends.


Author Biography

W. John Williamson, University of Calgary

PHD Interpretive studies in Education, University of Calgary. Diverse Learning Coordinating Teacher St. Anne Academic Centre.Alt+MAlt+N


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