amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

clueless about spoken word

I've been trying to understand the lure of slam/spoken word. I've attended a number of spoken word events and have enjoyed a few of the performers, but overall I'm underwhelmed. That's ok, I'm underwhelmed by a lot of standard poetry out there too, but I'm not alone in that. As far as my ambivalence for spoken word, I feel like I'm in the minority. There are some things I really like about it. I like the slam contest format...it's exciting and fast-paced. I like the performance aspect. I know how boring it can be to sit through a typical reading and listen to someone who reads his poems in a monotone voice, staring down at his papers and shuffling his feet. But that's pretty much where it ends for me.

Why? A lot of the themes just seem so repetitive and cliche. And even worse, in a few cases, there's pontificating and judging. Political poems are difficult to write with originality. It's a skill. Are they necessary? Yes, perhaps they are, but a lot of what I've heard at spoken word events is same old, same old. Maybe it's just that I'm getting old. What I find really offensive is the negative attitude toward people who are a) old b) fat c) white. A lot of spoken word seems to label and judge. That's my problem. It kinda reminds me of high school when if you didn't wear the cool jeans, someone made fun of you or beat you up. It feels divisive, rather than supportive of humanity. I know there's a lot of standard poetry that's the same, but I guess I don't read that stuff, and mostly at open mics at standard readings, there's little of that. I really want to like spoken word, because I appreciate the philosophy of performance and even protest against the establishment, but please tell me something new.

Also the format of many spoken word poems does not feel very poetic to me, and yes, I realize this is highly subjective. I find much of current poetry heavy on the prose, lacking in rhythm, strong diction and poetic devices, such as metaphor. With spoken word, I can understand a need to make the poem accessible from the get go, but imagery is still a necessary part of a poem to me, to make it memorable, even if the image must be a very concrete one, it's still needed.

For me a poem needs precise words with muscle and texture, words that surprise, images, rhythm. Eudora Welty said "One deep feeling called by its right name names others."

Recently a poetry pal used the term "page poetry" to differentiate between spoken word and the rest. I found it quite odd. To me all poetry must be effective when read aloud. Spoken word poetry to me is an oxymoron. All poems must work on both the printed page and in the air.

I'll try again with the world of spoken word and slam because I know that there is great artistry in there somewhere. There are some amazingly talented spoken word creators out there, but getting thru the pontification and the prose heavy information style stuff is tough, tougher even than some of the Halmark greeting card stuff or ad infinitum short stories at the other open mics around town. At least that stuff is mostly toothless and benign and like an old lint-covered candy, you suck on it for a while and then it's gone.

Here's a sample of a spoken word poem that still falls within the category of "poem" to me from The Spoken Word Revolution: http://www.bowerypoetry.com/wordstreet/spokenrevolution.htm


in the year i loved your mother
(for my daughter safiya who needs to know this)
by Regie Gibson

in the year i loved your mother
i lived a glorious death
i was satellite traveling between blood and star
a planet evolving through rage and grief

in the year i loved your mother
was a time of drought and deluge
a season of rain and ruin

between us much soil and water
an illiterate ocean of language and diction

i arrived to her half broken half breaking

in the year i loved your mother
we were drum and drone
a volley of polemic and ideal

once i glimpsed you
waving at me from her mouth
as dawn met our shoulders
she whispered your name

we became the thin line
between sea and mountain
valley and sky

in the year i loved your mother
gravity abandoned me to her
she was vortex-a black hole
sewn into the belly of a continent
crushing all into singularity.

grapewaswinewas
soundwassongwas
motionwasdancewas
dovewasvulturecirclingwaslandingwas
all that was : was herYYY

the year I loved your mother
was the year tragedy tamed tongues

we served ours stitched them into
one anothers mouths we grew fluent
in speaking pain.

we brought stones from our pockets
traded them hurled them back towards
each others wounds and those that missed
were gathered later were used to build our walls

she was an equinox of razors when i found her
an autumn of featherless wings
caught in this gale of a man

your mother was: soft lips cutting calluses
from my knuckles

a silk fist logged hard in my mouth
where it opened into a sunflower
widening in the crag of my throat

in her skin i was cryptic blasphemy
transparent decoded holy