SLaM on RyE Takes a Break

Poetry View – April By: Michelle Diemer

SLaM on RyE, a ten-year Modesto poetry tradition, draws to a close this April after welcoming countless poets to the mic during its tenure. Slam founder and organizer, Sam Pierstorff, sat down with Modesto View to reminisce over SLaM on RyE’s storied history and talk about his next steps in the poetry world.

Pierstorff’s decision to end the slam came as a big surprise to many supporters. His reasons for doing so, though, make perfect sense: he wants to spend more time with his family. When he started the slam, his oldest son was two. Now, he has three children and additional responsibilities to Little League, Girl Scouts and his own personal writing projects.

“Anybody who has ever run an event knows that the setup before the show takes hours and hours of work,” Pierstorff said. “From promoting the show to booking talent to dealing with last-minute situations, there’s an incredible amount of work for the run up to the show. On and off, I’ve had help, but even then it’s hard to find someone as reliable and committed as you are.”

Though SLaM on RyE demanded a lot his time over the past decade, Pierstorff lights up as he talks about what the venue did for localpoets. “The best part, by far, is watching intimidated new poets step to the mic and then just blossom month after month.”

He recounts numerous poets that found their voice at SLaM on RyE: The Saint, Jaelinda Mills, Tawny Holt and Elizabeth Sousa. Since theirinitial performances at SLaM on RyE, they’ve grow into incredible voices in our community that never want to stop writing and performing.

Pierstorff started the slam after returning to Modesto from Long Beach in 2000. He had studied poetry at California State University, Long Beach and developed an appreciation for spoken word while living in Southern California.

Back home, he determined to create a venue for local poetry. “There were a lot of writing groups, but I think I helped bring a lot of those writers out of their homes and into the public environment. I got them to share their poems publicly.”

Beyond getting poets to the mic, Pierstorff exposed locals to the beauty of spoken word. Many people who attend the slams regularly do not read their work: they go for the poetry.

“We’ve helped reshape people’s attitudes and opinions about poetry over the years,” Pierfstorff said. “What they once thought was uncool or extremely complicated and hard to understand is suddenly accessible, very in-your-face, very imagistic, very funny. The best poets bring a tremendousamount of performance with their poems so it becomes entertaining and, often, enlightening.”

The Slam’s venue, Prospect Theater, provides a great home for poetry. “This little theater is amazing because, when people step to that mic, there’s total attention on that poet. There’s no coffee machine grinding in the background. There’s no ambient noise. We have pin-drop silence and for that reason the space has been awesome.”

After building such a successful community for local poetry, it seems logical for Pierstorff to pass the hosting gig off to up-and-coming local talent. “I feel like I can’t detach myself totally if I just pass the baton because I’ll still be emotionally invested in this thing I created. I’ll want to train him or her, help with promotion. If that’s the case, why not just host it myself?”

Further, Pierstorff would like to reserve the right to resurrect SLaM on RyE if the opportunity arises. “Ultimately, this is something I built for ten years. If someone wants to come in and start their own slam and open mic, they should put in the work to do it on their own.”

Pierstorff has no plans to drop off the local arts scene entirely. He will still host the sell-out Ill List every December at the State Theatre and is under contract to write a biography for an unnamed Modestan. Of course, he also put together a best-selling poetry anthology More than Soil, More than Sky: The Modesto Poets.

He emphasizes that the poetry scene in Modesto is thriving, with numerous events in Modesto, Turlock and Stockton that range from open mics to traditional poetry slams.

“As I look around at the artistic landscape of Modesto, I know you are in good hands,” Pierstorff wrote in a farewell note on facebook. “I see a lot more happening: open mics, indie music shows, poetry readings, comedy events, jazz shows, amazing plays, and on and on. There is a good deal of poetry and art that remains here despite the small void that SLaM on RyE will leave behind.”

This month will usher in SLaM on RyE’s final show in its decade-long run at Prospect Theater. Mark your calendars for Wed., April 18th at 7:30. Let’s pack the house one last time as a thank you to Pierstorff for sharing so much of his time and talent over the last ten years to give poetry a long-lasting home in Modesto.

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