New York Post



GONE are the days of Robert Frost, lovely sonnets about roads not taken and quiet poetry readings.In the '90s, poetry slams - an electric mix of performance art and the written word, spoken by the oh-so-hip successors to Longfellow and his ilk - are the way to go. And as demonstrated in Paul Devlin's documentary "SlamNation," at Film Forum, poetry can generate the excitement of a contact sport.

That's readily apparent as Devlin focuses on the annual contest in which budding and full-fledged poets from across America converge on one city - this time: Portland, Ore. - to spout their stuff and walk off with the grand prize. Judges give scores from 1 to 10, as the audience boos and cheers accordingly.

As in any good documentary, Devlin is savvy enough to showcase individuals rather than the event. That puts several of the most engaging poets front and center, ranging from a spunky newspaper columnist to a guy who takes bodies to the morgue. Their works - sometimes delivered solo, other times in group - prove equally diverse.

Before long, viewers can't help getting caught up in the event's excitement and being simultaneously absorbed by the performers' craft. Further, their backstage competition and strategies - never mind charges of judges' racism - prove equally interesting.

The down side comes from Devlin's herky-jerky editing style, which later evolves into too many static closeups. And at a running time of 91 minutes, it ultimately gets a bit redundant.

But for most of its duration, "SlamNation" proves an illuminating look at poetry's evolution. Heck, if Robert Frost were alive, he'd probably be its biggest supporter.

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