An Interview with RingSide Slam

The poetry slam bandwagon has been incredibly successful at creating one thing that other art projects have not – a close-knit, distinct, and vibrant community of writers and creators who support one another’s cleverness through spoken word. So, ask yourself, what can I do in 3 minutes and 10 seconds?

In 3 minutes and 10 seconds RingSide Slam can: inspire mentoring, stimulate bold creativity and engage communities worldwide in the revelry of language! RingSide Slam is a new head-to-head poetry slam in Seattle who is calling all poets, Hip-Hop heads, rhymers and dreamers to come out and join them on stage the last Friday of each month @ Red Lounge. These artistic events are a judged competition where participants recite original poetry in a style known as ‘spoken word,’ and have a time limit of 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Poems are expressively and rhythmically performed to an audience who is the deciding factor of eliminations and winners.

Northwest Folklife is honored to get the chance to interview two talented ladies from RingSide Slam – the Host, Nikki Etienne (a.k.a. “Momma Nikki”) and Slam Master, Nikkita Oliver (a.k.a. “K.O.”).

 

Folklife:

Both Seattle natives?

Nikki:

Born in Cali, but grew up here.

Nikkita:

Born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. Moved to Seattle in 2004 for college. Stayed ever since.

 

Folklife:

Why the name RingSide? Your Facebook and website use images of Muhammed Ali quite often. Is that related to the name choice or more the style of this particular poetry slam?

Nikki:

We had this concept of an idea with having a head-to-head kind of show.

Nikkita:

In addition to what Nikki said, I am also a boxer and think of boxing as an art. I find lots of connections between poetry slam, rap/emcee battles and what happens in the boxing ring. For me, it was birthed out of my boxing and art experience combined. I also think we both have strong connection emcee/Hip Hop/Poetry as a part of black culture – Ali and Malcolm X resonate with both of us, our lives, our art, our experiences.

 

Folklife:

Would you say that the atmosphere at RingSide is more relaxed than a traditional slam? Does it seem like a good place for first-timers and people who haven’t slammed before?

Nikki:

I think the vibe of our slam is more than just a slam, because we bring Hip Hop into the entire night. We have a local DJ that plays throughout the whole night. The vibe is art! It’s poetry and Hip Hop. Its soul. It’s home. It doesn’t matter if you’re a vet or a first timer…All Are Welcome!

 

Folklife:

When you first had the idea to create RingSide, did you feel like there weren’t many platforms for poets and emcees to come together and perform anymore? You mentioned it taking things back to the heart of it, so was this art form sort of falling by the wayside in Seattle?

Nikkita:

I don’t think the art form is dying, but the space where self-proclaimed emcees cross with self-proclaimed poets is more limited in Seattle than other art scenes I have been in. We just wanted to get the two paths crossing more. I personally have gained a lot from emcees as a poet and a lot from poets as an emcee. This has turned me into a free-styling cyphering emceeing poet. Selfishly, I wanted to grow my art more – SHOUT OUT to Cornerstone, a dope event that used to be at Faire on Cap Hill. This is where I got into spoken word and emceeing.

Nikki:

There are a lot of open mics, or there used to be more, but many fell off, but I was part of an open mic & Artist showcase for a few years that brought some of the same elements we are bringing to RingSide. It was called Cornerstone.

 

Folklife:

Do you see RingSide Slam as a way to bring elements of black culture to the community?

Nikkita:

I see it as a way to share with others who I am – I am black and mixed and queer and woman. I hope others feel it is a space they can do the same. I am also very invested in re-building the black art presence in this city. We are in the start of the central district, an historically black neighborhood. Poetry and Hip-Hop have always been a place to salute history and build something beautiful in the present and the future. I hope that is what we are doing while also honoring the heritage of the art forms as well as our own ancestors and ancestral roots.

 

Folklife:

Do you think performing/slamming is something all poets should try? What benefits or differences do you see in slam/spoken word versus print or online?

Nikki:

Slamming isn’t for everyone and as I’ve told Nikkita before, honestly, I really don’t like standard slamming. It takes away from the core of why people started writing in the first place. Slammers write pieces strictly for slams and that’s great if that’s what you want to do, but if it’s just about the art – about the expression or the need to release your creativity – then don’t limit me to 3 minutes. As an all-around artist, poet/MC/singer/dancer/photographer/painter, basically anything involving the arts, art may be subjective, but if it’s coming from the artists core of who they are. Then it should be expressed.

 

Folklife would like to thank Nikki and Nikkita from RingSide Slam for taking the time to chat. Come join their unique and artistic poetry slams the last Friday of each month @ Red Lounge. The Northwest Folklife Festival is ecstatic to include RingSide Slam as a part of this year’s Culture Focus! Their performance will be held on Saturday, May 23 at the Cornish Playhouse Stage from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Beat your way to RingSide Slam as they make abstract things concrete poetically.

Posted in Cultural Focus, Folklife, Seattle Center.

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