Arts and Culture

A major spoken word tournament comes to Louisville this week.

The 30th annual Southern Fried Poetry Slam runs Wednesday through Saturday, in person for the  first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. It features individual poets and slam poetry teams from across the country competing for titles and prizes, judged by a panel of experts. There are also open mic nights and workshops at Louisville venues like Wiltshire Pantry on Main Street, KMAC Museum, Kentucky Performing Arts’ MeX Theater, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Roots 101 African-American Museum and Joe’s Palm Room

Louisville poet Lance G. Newman II, also known as Mr. Spreadlove, is the local director for the festival. Newman first went to the event in 2007. 

“It changed my life,” he said. “So from then on, I was adamant about bringing the festival to my city so that other poets in the community could see the bar and kind of rise to the occasion.”

The event began in the early 1990s and different cities in the southeast host it each year. This is the second time it’s landed in Louisville. 

Tournament director Eddie Vega explained that the competition lasts for days, with teams and solo artists competing in “bouts” to advance to the finals on the last night. Vega said, despite the contest, the event has a communal feel to it. 

“People call it, like, a family reunion… people are really invested in each other’s work and each other’s artistry,” Vega said. 

He added that it’s also very powerful to witness these spoken word artists at work, hearing them recite their poetry onstage, “from their perspective and it’s heartfelt.”

“And poets are in the world. They live in a world that we all live in, and they’re reacting to it.” Vega said. “So you’re gonna see poems that deal with issues in our current culture, in our current situations, in stuff that’s in the news, current events. All of that kind of comes into the poet’s mind [and] is going to be expressed on that stage.”

Newman said he feels it’s a big deal to have the event in Louisville.

“We are an artistic city,” Newman said. “We have some phenomenal artists that live in the city. And if only we invested in those artists a little bit more, the nation would see us a little differently.”

Kentucky teams and artists competing include Blood Speaks of Lexington, Louisville Lip and The Greatest Slam Team from Louisville and independent poet Dre Brew of Louisville, according to the event brochure.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.