Thursday, June 17, 2004

You're not a poet,

you just slam a lot.
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.

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·tive

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'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.

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.


Dyanna said...

Just out of curiosity, but what influenced you to write this today?

Anonymous said...

Ya guy what spurned this change? I agree with you, although I reserve the right to occasionally feel otherwise like: when I feel that most people in the world are stupid. So the widest possible array of audience is also stupid. But I agree with you otherwise. Stupid people need their champions as well.

Anonymous said...

Ya Guy what spurned this change? I agree with you, although I reserve the right to occasionally feel otherwise like: when I feel that most people in the world are stupid. So the widest possible array of audience is also stupid. But I agree with you otherwise. Stupid people need their champions as well.

Edward Garcia

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

It was partly in response to some observations on poetry missarrow (Domestic Goddess) made in her LJ and kind of snowballed from there. Not even sure I made the point I originally set out to make as it ended up going off in its own direction. I wouldn't say it's an outright change in my thinking as much as an evolution. I've always believed slam should be about new voices, but I also did what I could to impose my own aesthetic on the overall result. The downside of that is the sense of entitlement it gave those that fit that aesthetic, ultimately empowering them to institute a "velvet rope" on the scene. I think there's also some of the thinking I've been doing about louder than words mixed in there, too. Still kinda sorting it all out in my head.

Anonymous said...

How ironic is it that I write this just having won the nerd slam? That's funny.
Ed garcia

Anonymous said...

I guess in some ways then I'm the audience slam poets should be trying to reach. I'm a non poet. In fact, in my old zine I had several funny (to me) pieces about how much I *hate* poetry.

I've gone to a couple of slams here in Providence and I went to the nationals in Seattle a few years ago cuz I was living there at the time and it was good to see some of my friends from home. Still, I got sort of bored with the "poetry scene" for a few reasons.

1. It is a scene. Like most scenes it winds up feeling very alienating to someone outside of it.

2. It felt like I was hearing the same exact two or three poems over and over and over again, no matter who was reading (and it doesn't help that I would oftentimes hear literally the same people reading the same poems).

3. There seems to be a "no one over 21" sign at the door to the slam. I'm 30.

4. I asked a friend of mine who is a performance poet if all of the poets who talk about rape had actually been raped, or if they just used it because its "shocking" language. My friend told me its about 50/50.

5. I got really annoyed by the crowd booing any judge that gave less than a 9.5 to any given poem. What's the point of having the scale go 1-10 if you're only "allowed" to use .5 of that. Why not have it just go 1-5 with integers?

6. Every poem has the same inflection and rythym thing that is supposed to sound cool and hip and poetic but to an outsider starts to sound repetitive and dumb. I could create a word randomizer that spits out a totally nonsense poem and still read it like a "slam poet."

7. I don't really care if you're a lesbian. Really. Get over yourself.

- David Grenier

Anonymous said...

This is Taylor Mali. I hear you, David, but you have to understand that venues are totally different. Different emcees have different levels of control over what judges and poets can get away with.

Diane said...

Slam poetry is dead..........get over it

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

[Diane said... Slam poetry is dead..........get over it] Well, that's certainly a subjective opinion, no? ;-)

Dyanna said...