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Poetry succeeds because it exists in realms (love and revolution) the viewer can accept.

Sohn, who plays the creative writing teacher with a sordid, mysterious past, also reaches a depth in her jail scenes that she never attains on the "outside." In her farewell speech to her poetry students, she conveys a complex stew of grief, love, hope, rage and generosity.

Still, the action is so absurdly wishful here, it belongs in a fairy tale. In a crucial scene, Raymond finds himself cornered by a dozen bruising inmates. His only defense is to rant mystical verses at his persecutors, and while one expects the tough cons to pummel the sissy-poet even harder after this exhortation, miraculously they back away, instantly converted to nonviolence by his poetry. Soon after, they declare a citywide cease-fire between opposing gangs -- another testament to the power of the Word. It's a nice thought, but if victims could "word" their way out of trouble, Federico GarcĂ­a Lorca would not have been shot, nor Euripides exiled, and the disarmingly articulate Joan of Arc might have eluded her public barbecuing at the stake

The idea underlying Slam is laudable -- show that in an inner city world suffused by death, drugs, and degradation, there is a non-violent way out through creativity. "Slamming" -- a performance art featuring the half-rapping/half-recitation of nontraditional poetry -- provides an outlet for the pain and passion bubbling within today's youths. It's an alternative to gunplay and a means to show others that bloodshed isn't the only solution. In a real-world sense, first-time director Marc Levin's perspective may be a little naive (in one unlikely scene, a prisoner's ardent, impromptu poetry reading saves his life by mollifying those who plan to kill him in the jail yard), but it makes for compelling drama.

Slam tells the story of Joshua Ray (Saul Williams), a small-time Washington D.C. marijuana dealer who is caught by th...

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