Poetry Duels and Contests

Rivers of Rhyme

Growing out of our work with the People’s Poetry Gathering, City Lore is engaged in a long term initiative to research, document, and present improvised poetry duels and contests with an emphasis on the Americas. In 1999, the Gathering highlighted the pan-Latin decima tradition from Columbia, Brazil, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, along with some of the new U.S. forms and formats such as free style (street corner) improvised rap.  In 2001, the Gathering highlighted a number of competitive Asian traditions in the U.S. including the Filipino-American balagtasan genre of traditional poetry debates. The Yemeni balah tradition of competitive improvised verse was highlighted at our 2004 Yemeni dinner and  the Basque bertsolari tradition at the 2006 Gathering.  The zajal poetry duelling tradition from Lebanon was presented at Illuminated Verses: Poetries of the Islamic World.  In 2009, with funding from the AE Ventures Foundation, folklorists Steve Zeitlin and Amanda Dargan traveled to Port of Spain to document the extempo tradition of improvised poetry contests of Trindad and Tobago.   Most recently, they traveled to Ponte de Lima in Portugal to document desafio poets at the Feiras Novas festival which has been celebrated since the year 1125. 

Below are clips with 1) extempo poets from Trinidad and Tobago, 2) repentistas in  São Paulo, Brazil, 3) a freestyle session, 4) the sung decima tradition, and 5) duels with Basque bertsolariak.


Sans Humanité: An Extempo Encounter


Extempo War Breaks Out in Brooklyn


Repentistas Emboladores in Praça da Sé -Repentistas Vs. Emboladores


Repentistas Emboladores in Praça da Sé – Taunting


Freestylin’ With Toni Blackman


La Decima – A Puerto Rican Poetry Contest


Basque Poetry Duel at the Bowery Poetry Club




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