I should note that I tend to define slam poets in a very general sense, beyond the specifics of the actual competition. IMO, non-competing poets that read frequently at slam-affiliated open mics are also slam poets, looking for and benefitting from the audience the competition attracts and the energy it generates. To pretend otherwise is hypocritical. Or self-delusional.You're not a poet,
you just slam a lot.
While the question of the level of importance of the competition in the early days of slam is the subject of some debate, few will argue that Marc Smith's original intent was to reach a wider audience. The competition was simply a gimmick to draw that wider audience in.
As such, I've always valued, and found much more intertesting, the non-poets' opinions on poetry, especially in regards to slam and its periphery. In theory, they are the audience most slam poets are trying to reach, and yet, I've found that the more accepted a poet is into the scene, the more dismissive they tend to become of the non-poets' opinions.
NEWS FLASH: Other poets are not the audience one should be primarily interested in reaching. Or impressing.
Most poets hate - or hate on - the crowd favorites, especially those poets that consider themselves...ahem, Poets, and see accessibility as pandering or appearing on Def Poetry as selling out. (Until, you know, they get invited to tape and have to edit something down [or up] to 2.5 minutes; then they're "raising the bar.") It's the simple-minded, reflexive mentality - of which I've been guilty of many times, the opening lines of this post being just one example - that says something with wide appeal is, by definition, of a lesser quality. While sometimes the case (Britney Spears, Adam Sandler, Friends, American Beauty), the fact of the matter is that it is all ultimately subjective. And that's okay.
Understanding - and more importantly, accepting - subjectivity is the key to understanding all forms of art and appreciating its place in our society.
Main Entry: 1sub·jec·tiveI've come to believe that there's no such thing as good or bad art, just art that does and doesn't appeal to me personally.
4 a (1) : peculiar to a particular individual : PERSONAL <subjective judgments> (2) : modified or affected by personal views, experience, or background <a subjective account of the incident> b : arising from conditions within the brain or sense organs and not directly caused by external stimuli <subjective sensations> c : arising out of or identified by means of one's perception of one's own states and processes <a subjective symptom of disease> -- compare OBJECTIVE 1c
I like Bukowski, but I have no interest in Whitman.
I like Baldwin, but McMillan bores me to tears.
I like big butts and I cannot...oh, wait!
Point is, it's all good as long as it's connecting with someone. Even Jewel's poetry has artistic value because her work can speak to the "views, experience, or background" of those that Lourde, Angelou or Giovanni cannot.
To dwell on the question any further than that is to waste perfectly good brain cells that you're better off destroying with drugs or alcohol. You'll get more pleasure from it as you head to the same end result.
The worst thing a poetry slam can do is attempt to impose a certain aesthetic on its audience. Without an audience, there's no poets, simply diarists.
In its most ideal form, a poetry slam should make a place for all voices, offering a buffet to the widest possible audience. More than just having a sign-up list that anyone can get on, that means actively reaching out to both the mainstream and the "indie rockers," creating a forum where they can happily co-exist, to the ultimate benefit of both the audience and themselves.
To each his own and, taken together, the sum will become much greater than its parts.