Slam Poets Jude Waldo, Tera McIntosh, Adriana Ramirez, and Nina Barone, holding Anna Voelker
Slam Mamns By most accounts, the style of spoken word poetry known as “slam” was started by a working-class poet in a Chicago jazz club in the 1980s. So it’s fitting that our own city of industrial roots is home to a growing number of slam poets and spoken word artists, who are building on the tradition with local raw material. Poets like Tera McIntosh. She works with at-risk youth, just earned a Ph.D., specializing in asset based community development, and sits on boards of and is involved closely with a number of area non-profits. She’s a Pittsburgh Passion football offensive line player and a pallet furniture builder. McIntosh is also the executive director of the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective, an umbrella organization for youth poetry, Steel City Slam, writing workshops, and community performances. But she has another way to describe herself: “I would call myself more of a social justice poet. Most of my research for my doctorate was done in creating safe spaces for people to come together and build relationships.”
That includes creating safe space for herself. McIntosh came out as a lesbian publicly for the first time while performing her poem “Dear Tyler” in a slam. It was inspired by the bullying that drove Tyler Clemente to take his own life by jumping from a bridge. The last lines read:
And remember If I can stand here today, so can you. It gets better—it did for me… and it will for you.
McIntosh says the slam poetry world is so open and accepting, she’s never been afraid to express herself there. “We create better communities when we get to know each other,” she says. And that’s one of the reasons she’s such a big advocate for the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective’s youth program, Young Steel. The exhibition league performs the last Saturday of every month at Cannon Coffee in Brookline, McIntosh’s neighborhood. She says fostering a youth program encourages literacy, problem solving, and cultural learning and acceptance. It also makes for better future slam poets. The adult poets of Steel City Slam perform August through April, every third Tuesday of the month at the Shadow Lounge in East Liberty to an
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