Tuesday, March 9, 2004

So I'm trying to finish this new piece [have I mentioned Acentos is tonight?] that came out of nowhere a little over a week ago and I go to open it up in Word a few minutes ago and I notice another file cryptically named "post," last modified on 5/14/2003. Curious, I open it and find this:

My father thought holding my head under the water was the best way to teach me to hold my breath and, ultimately, to swim. To this day, I cannot swim.

This is obviously something we will never agree on, though.

Competing against you or any other "veteran" in a slam doesn't make anyone better unless you're suggesting that the points actually mean something and who "wins" is representative of something other than the subjective opinions of five random people. I know if Shawn or Claudia had made the team, no one would be saying they were better writers than those they beat, they'd be complaining that the judges I picked sucked.

What makes people better writers is encouragement and honest critique and the opportunity to have their voices heard and an encouraging environment to develop those voices.

I didn't become a better writer during my year at the Nuyorican because I slammed against writers that were "better" than me, I got better because of the supportive community that existed there, encouraging me to get better, telling when something I wrote was crap. It was also a community that constantly wrote and performed new work because the "veterans" were no longer competing, they had stepped up to the next level and became mentors.

The experience of Nationals, in particular, isn't about developing to the point where you can take out Billy Collins in a head-to-head competition. Nationals is nothing more than a step, an EARLY step, in a poet's development process. At least it SHOULD be.

Instead, it seems to have become this ego-driven, cutthroat
It ends there, followed by the thread of emails I was responding to, all part of the internal debate about the slam that ultimately led to my officially stepping down from the louderARTS Project six days later. If I remember correctly, I'm pretty sure I knew I was done with them as I was writing that email.

As another slam season draws to a close, locally and across the country, and venues prepare for the final slams that will decide the teams representing them in St. Louis this summer, I've noticed several slam "veterans" have been pondering the vitality and relevance of slam in their journals. I wrote something for Word Street last year about that and think the main point still stands: As long as there are poets who have not yet found their voice, who have not felt both the sting and praise of audience reaction, there will always be a need for the poetry slam.

The problem isn't with the slam format itself, it's with the poets and how they choose to approach it. Period.

Everything else is just ego talking.

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