Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Wednesday Aug 3, 2005 - 2:09PM

So, the countdown to the National Poetry Slam is begun. The regional competitions are all done and we won two of the four; the one at our own venue, and the one at Brooklyn's venue (which surprised the hell out of me).

Our team is really really ready, i think. We have three tight duets and amongst us, a plethora of very good, very well rehearsed/performed work that i think gives us a better than average chance of making it to the finals.

Still, i find myself caring less and less about whether or not we're victorious and more about whether or not we acquit ourselves with work and performances that speak to craft and art, and the pursuit of excellence in those. Slam poetry more and more makes capital of the art form in a way i once thought - naively - would never happen; and in a way that has destroyed the public consumption (and perception) of R&B, hip-hop, Jazz, Rock, Country... you name it.

Thing is, i still believe that the only way Slam can remain relevant is through two things. The first is, that those of us who truly believe that the competition should remain a gimmick, and nothing more, need to keep ourselves involved. We need to remind folk that this was supposed to be a way to make the public interested, not to really objectively decide what is a better poem or poet. The more we spend time wresting with ideas of fair-play in the forum (what constitutes a costume violation or a prop, or what the best way is to eliminate score creep, or bias in the judges selected) the more we fool ourselves into thinking that one can actually create a level playing field for the "sport" - which it ain't, no matter what y'all think. It is also the less time one has to think about actually writing good poems, perfecting one's craft and pushing the artistic envelope in which we find ourselves. Until we make this choice, the Poetry Slam will continue to grow in its ranks of thos who are more interested in manipulating five judges than dealing with the "truth" of one's art.

The second way in which Slam can remain relevant is - and this will appear really radical - is by ceasing to exist. If Slam was invented to bring folks back to poetry, if the competition was supposed to be a gimmick that lured the crowd in, then eventually Slam should not need to exist. I think we're just about at that point; and as artists at the vanguard of a its movement, we need to start thinking about the next place to take the art form. Performance Poetry is fast approaching a wall, in the form of the Poetry Slam, which will destroy its freshness on impact. Where will we find the next thing that helps us veer off in a direction we can live with before folks start talking about performance poetry the same way we talk about commercial hip-hop?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love you, and you are almost there. Keep the faith my friend, I promise sometimes I know things.
Love you,

12:42 PM  
Blogger Rich said...

Not everyone agrees on a definition of "what we do" vis-a-vis performance poetry/spoken word. This is problem number one: Who exactly is on the same page with us in the crusade to bring "poetry to the masses" through the slam?

If you ask the slammers themselves, some of them even refuse to call themselves poets. One can't very well lead a movement in poetry without actual poets.

And before you chalk it up to the competiton of it all, consider that there are poets (including some whose bios are up at HBO's Def Poetry site) who consider what they do to be "spoken word" or something OTHER THAN pure poetry. Others desire to treat the art as a pure business, despite being weaned off slam scores as a motivator.

Bottom line, I think we as poets (those of us who still claim the title) need to choose our battles very wisely as we slowly move away from slam, because there are simply not that many folks who will follow us into that vaunted "next thing;" some because they don't know how, others because they simply don't give a shit.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Amanda Johnston said...

Ditto, ditto, DITTO! We are poets and the more I go to slams the more I see poets becoming puppets/puppet masters. Manipulating the audience and feeding into what is expected as performers suffocates everyone involved. The flexibility to grow in your creative process and experiment with delivery should not be limited to the space between a 0 and 10. I see this happening because of attitudes and egos within and outside of slam. Thank you for this post.

Mad Wuv,

P.S. Hit me back with your address and the cost for your new chapbook. I got to get that asap. Is the DVD ready?

10:59 AM  
Blogger jonesie girl said...

slam...spoken..however u choose to chew not a good looks as far as im concerned

i think words shld be able to translate to paper to sound to sumthing more than gimmick & w/ cant & its not

poetry shld be that
as for the jumping up and down theatrics

thats what i got my mama & her sisters for

8:00 AM  
Blogger still grooven said...

word! ok... so, my 2 cents... poetry exists first in our bodies and once we put it into motion, it automatically becomes language, right? and whether that motion happens on a blank page or behind a mic, or standing still or in a full out harlem shake doesn't really matter, right? our journey as artists is to get people to feel. whether we claim our art, realize how we make it happen, or involintarily let it happen to us, the point is that it will happen with or without our approval. (in this context, i guess approval could be measured by scores.) and i think we find brilliance when we use these "frames" to set pages and stages ablaze... but what it is critical to remember is that it is all necessary. however you "chew it" (i like that.) all good, all necessary food. and i think in that way, we are all on the front lines for a battle that chose us. within that, we are each fighting to find our own voices and how we want them heard. by whatever means, when people listen/read/feel, we have succeeded. so go kick ass and whether you bring home a trophy or money or whateva... well, at wonderful least you've blessed the space with art.

10:46 AM  
Blogger LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs said...

Sweetie, you're sooooo ready to make the move.

What's truly interesting in the next level is the flow of slam poetry...and i'm speaking broadly

the experimentation within it, when it does happen, has it's relations to sound poetry, to ethnopoetics...

see jerome rothenberg's technicans of the sacred

now folks will give me the gas face on this and you know I'm not at all a "slamming" individual

but in the context of where it could go, think about your opening piece at the bowery and place it on the page....when you see'll know papa

5:55 PM  
Blogger lenelle moise said...

I'm never so sure about televised revolutions, but I'm certain that for our long-term survival (and much to our short-term detriment) whatever movements we can muster as artists must be documented. "Slam" is simply our archiving device; it's the word future poets will google to find us...

Semi-relatedly, I saw David Lachapelle's "RIZE" last week. It was the most joyful, call-and-response cinema experience of my life! The film (about "clowning" and "krumping"--relatively recent L.A.-street-based African-American dance forms) reminded me that systematically marginalized bodies/voices/thinkers will always innovate new expressive containers. Slam was/is a mere container for urgent expression. So what if the glass is half empty? Let's just break the damned thing already and drink water from our hands...

Radical Hi-five, Elle.

2:38 PM  

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