Performance Interpretation: Closing the Language Gap in Slam

Performance Interpretation is a method of performance poetry wherein poets who speak different languages simultaneously perform in a way that merges the words and voices of both languages, as well as the ideas and emotions they express, into an exciting and entertaining experience.

Spoken word poetry is a worldwide phenomenon – poetry slams are performed in many languages in hundreds of cultures. But what makes a performance poem so engaging isn’t just the words of the poem itself and thus a literal translation of the text would fall short. By translating the performance choices – mood, inflection, body language, rate, dramatic build – performance poetry interpretation bridges the language barrier so that more than one language audience can experience the magic of slam. The form features poets performing poems together, in multiple languages, with dynamic interaction and audience engagement. Scroll down to see a great example of the form and to see what’s happening next in CSW’s charge toward advancing the slam movement around the world.


Chicago Sister Cities Paris Partners with Chicago Slam Works for 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Paris/Chicago Relationship

This year, Chicago Slam Works teamed up with the venerable Chicago Sister Cities Paris Committee to celebrate French Connection 2016 in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the Sister Cities Paris relationship by hosting three poets, better known as Collective 129H from the City of Lights. The poets performed throughout Chicago in early October.

To ensure audiences are able to appreciate every French syllable, Chicago Slam Works’ Speak’Easy poets worked with the group to translate their poems using language and performance. The result is an exciting, simultaneous, dual-linguistic translation that audiences can instantly understand. The process turns translation into literary gymnastics.

Highlights of special events included performances at Uptown Poetry Slam, Poetry Foundation, and Polo Café. Collective 129H and the Speak Easy Ensemble also performed for a private reception for the French Runner’s arriving for the Chicago Marathon, for students at Lincoln Park High School and Lycée Français. The Lincoln Park High School performance were filmed and will be released online for Chicago Public School students.

For the full schedule of Sister Cities 20th Anniversary events, visit

Bios of Performers

 Collective 129H

For fourteen years, Collective 129H has hosted hundreds of poetry slams in France. Since 2014, the team can be found in Paris at the Stage of the Canal-Jemmapes where they host a monthly poetry slam. They have performed in Mali, New Caledonia, Egypt, Congo, and Morocco. From 2011 to 2013, 129H also led a daily chronicle of the current events for The Mouv Radio. Musical, offbeat, cheeky and relevant, about 250 works have been aired on Radio France.

Born in an eastern suburb of Paris, Rouda’s style lies between spoken word and the tradition of vocal jousts. He regularly performs at festivals, which has led him to Caracas, Bamako, Dakar, Marrakesh, Cairo, Brazzaville, Haiti and Nouméa. In France, he leads workshops as well. In 2008, Rouda released his first album in “Musique des Lettres,” which won critical acclaim. Since then, Rouda produced his latest album “A l’Ombre des Brindilles” and toured with Austrian group Bauchklang. He leads a daily chronicle on Mouv’ Radio.

In 2000, Neobled presented “Dynamic duo” on Radio Generations broadcast and featured on the legendary mixtape   “Hello France.” In 2001, he co-founded the ensemble 129H with Lyor and Rouda.  Six years later, he released his first album “La vie après les maux,” which struck a balance between excellence in sound and text. In 2014, he produced the albums “L’homme de vers” and “Olympus.” Today, Neobled travels between the stages and recording studios in every corner of France. . He also led a daily chronicle on the Mouv’ Radio, and went on tour with the show of 129H “Slameurs public.”

Lyor was born in Paris and co-founded the Collective 129H in 2001. Lyor has facilitated hundreds of workshops and radio guest appearances. Highlights include: Inauguration of Palais of Tokyo in Paris; Urban Meetings of La Villette,  Hip Hop Festival of Saint-Denis; Poetry International Festival of Marrakesh; Etonnants Voyageurs Festival of Saint-Malo; Theater and Street Arts Festival of d’Aurillac (2005); Mots qui Content Festival, Cairo (2006); Mythos Festival, Rennes (2007); No Mad Land Tour; and Slameurs Publics Tour.


Speak’Easy Ensemble

Joel Chmara is a professor of communication at the College of Lake County. He is a founding member of the Speak’Easy Ensemble. In 2002, Joel was a finalist at the National Poetry Slam. He was featured on HBO’s Def Poetry and has toured throughout Europe.

Molly Meacham teaches in a Chicago Public School, but has found time to be part of the Speak’Easy Ensemble directed by Marc Smith. With Speak’Easy, she has performed in Germany and worked with German poets for live-translation shows sponsored by Chicago Slam Works. Her poems have been published with journals including, The Foundling Review, The New Verse News, and Right Hand Pointing. She is also proud to have co-edited Write Bloody’s Learn Then Burn teacher’s edition.

Shelley Elaine Geiszler is a performer and writer whose devised work has incorporated slam poetry, puppetry, aerial arts, and burlesque. She performed in Germany and Switzerland with the Speak ‘Easy Ensemble, contributed writing to five scripts for Rough House Theater, and co-wrote and performance six original productions with Chicago Slam Works. Other performance features include The Fly Honey Show and Salonathon. Shelley is set to begin shooting Katies Crossing, an independent episodic television piece with Sincerely TV this fall.

Tim Stafford is a poet, educator, and storyteller from Chicago. He is the editor of the “Learn Then Burn” anthology series (Write Bloody Publishing) and a former Chicago Grand Slam Champion. His work has appeared on the HBO series Def Poetry Jam and at festivals across the world including the ABC Brecht Festival (Germany), the Woerdz Festival (Switzerland) and the 2013 Valby Slam (Denmark). He will be representing the United States at the 2016 International Spoken Word Festival and has a book of short stories slated for publication in 2017.