Friday, September 19, 2003

Just wanted to elaborate on a little something I touched on in the previous entry which was initially sparked by a discussion on Phil West's LiveJournal earlier this week: the question of emotion vs. polish or, a bit more esoterically, authentic vs. reflexive.

In the simpler of the two debates, emotion vs. polish, I typically lean towards preferring emotion. Polish - especially taken in the context of whom Phil was having the initial discussion with - is often used as a euphemism for "better," with the inherent implication that emotional work is less-polished and, as a result not as good.

Staying within those simplistic black-and-white parameters, I've often found the contrary, that work that was too polished lacked the necessary emotion to make an honest connection. Poetry, for me, is not simply about the craft. There needs to be some functionality in there, too. If the way you say what you say strikes me as more impressive than what you have to say, it's the page equivalent of a great performance of average material.

American Beauty is a great example of trite material taken up a notch by strong performances. Much of Saul Williams' work strikes me the same way. Patricia Smith, on the other hand, is a perfect example of polished emotion, making the connection without sacrificing the craft or letting it overshadow the content.

For me, 33-1/3, is pure emotion - written out of frustration back in late-1997 and revised more times than any other poem of mine - with just enough craft to make it viable. I have a love-hate thing with the poem, partly because I can't seem to escape it. It's one of my few inherently high-energy pieces and it definitely has an audience that appreciates what it says.

Ironically, despite my preference for emotion, the majority of my own work seems to lack it, at least on the performance side. In slam, I would draw my energy from the competition, channeling it into my performances. Nowadays, being far removed from the need to compete and even further removed from the anger that inspired and drove much of my earlier work, I find myself looking for new ways to present a poem on the stage. With most of it being more narrative than inflammatory, I seem to be drifting into storyteller territory, one eye on connecting with the audience, the other on connecting with the underlying metaphors in the poem. I look to Willie Perdomo for inspiration there, the way he can sit on a chair reading from his book and do things with his voice that knocks the shuck-and-jive antics of the average slam poet out of the water.

Perception is also key, too, as my using "schuck-and-jive" to describe the more performance-oriented antics of some poets suggests a conflicting bias with my supposed preference, and certainly describes how I feel whenever I pull out 33-1/3 at a show. Weird.

Side note: Patricia's new children's book is out - Janna and the Kings, and Willie's new book of poetry, Smoking Lovely, should be hitting shelves any second now.

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