Friday, February 21, 2003

Back when I was single and just starting out on the poetry scene, I quickly learned one rule of thumb: no matter how attractive, never introduce yourself to a poet until AFTER you've heard them read. There's nothing more awkward than the moment they finish their poem, you realize they're absolutely terrible - or, even worse, some sad variation on mediocre - and you've lost all desire to continue the conversation!

Curating a reading series that includes a slam, I'm always on the lookout for new voices on the scene to invite to read at 13. Whether a potential feature or a new slammer, whenever I'm at a show, I'm careful about who I'm introduced to and, more importantly, WHEN. It's no longer about attraction but the logic is the same. If anything, it's even worse.

The absolute worst is people who have established something of a name for themselves - not terribly difficult in these days of DIY PR, the internet and the overall spoken word bandwagon. Recently, I was at a show where one such person was reading. I'd seen her name around and was curious. Thankfully, I waited to hear a couple of pieces before being introduced. She wasn't terrible, but she wasn't very good, either. Great performance and stage presence but not nearly enough attention to crafting the words. Most annoying was her identity piece - everyone's got at least one! - that ranted about the stereotyping of her people while simultaneously indulging in the stereotypes of another. Lacking any sense of irony, it just came off as ignorant.

Anyway, this got me thinking about my admittedly random criteria for booking features which makes for awkward situations when I get introduced to, or get out-of-the-blue emails from, people requesting features that I either don't particularly like or just plain never heard of. I know what I like and it varies wildly. Personality is as important to me as talent in picking features so my not liking the PERSON can be a big influence. I do make the ocassional exception for someone that's gained some notoriety or acclaim, though. One guy a couple of years ago pestered me so much via email - guaranteeing an amazing show and begging for a feature - that I finally gave in and booked him, promoting him as a spoken word comedian as opposed to a poet. He was decent and I filled my quota of features I don't necessarily like.

Sticky subject, that. My opinion of comedic poetry has come a long way, though. To be honest, I think it's no different from any other type of genre. Political poetry can be just as insipid as funny stuff, if not more so. While I believe it's easier to make people laugh than think, it's much harder to make people laugh AND think at the same time.

I realize that every time I have a feature of my own and have nothing "funny" to mix things up with. I have funny moments in some of my stuff but it's ultimately all melancholy and desperate hopefulness. I've tried to write funny but it's as pointless as trying to write a political poem. You write what you write and anything you force out comes across exactly like that: forced.

In some ways, I miss the innocence of my first six months on the scene when I thought we were changing the world and making a difference by writing and reading poetry and getting drunk and arguing politics and the meaning of life. We still do those things and most days, I still believe in a lot of it but reality is a party-pooper and I realize there's so much more to it than living the stereotypical artsist's life, talking the talk all the time but only walking the walk when convenient.

Where the hell did this tangent come from?!?!? I've totally forgotten where the hell I was going with all of this so I'll stop now.

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