amongst books

amongst books

Monday, March 07, 2011

thoughts on the term "page poet"

this term has been coming up a lot lately in Ottawa because many poets will be coming together to share their work at VERSeFest, an upcoming week long extravaganza of a whole pile of styles of poetry. You will find a reasonable explanation of the term by Allison Armstrong. i believe this term is being used in good faith, without any attempt to dismiss or show disdain. on the one hand this is a practical way of attempting to describe poetry, but i have reservations:

i don't want to be classified. and i don't like the binary nature of it. and i don't like the fact that the designation classifies a person rather than the work.

i write for the ear, the imagination and the gut. i haven't written anything so far that i haven't wanted to work both on the page and in front of an audience. i read and practice my work out loud and revise in an attempt to make the work compelling for an audience and for readers.

when i am a member of an audience at a poetry reading, i enjoy a good performance, but that word is also difficult. poems can operate on many levels. i sometimes find that the poet's delivery of the poem gets in the way: either too emotive or not emotive enough.

on Saturday night i listened to the readings of Sandra Ridely & Steven Ross Smith. Sandra read her work and i closed my eyes. for me, the person at the front of the stage disappeared and i listened closely. i was mesmerized by the sensuality, the rhythms, the language, the tone.

Steven Ross Smith read from books 3 & 4 of fluttertongue and his versatilty was amazing. book 3- disarray was full of tight, energetic lines, whereas book 4-adagio for the pressured surround had more pauses, was more contemplative & meditative.

it's a very difficult balance to want one's work to be compelling both on the page and on the stage, but i think for some of us, it might be an important element of our work. and i hate to see this disregarded.

i also have heard some great spoken word poetry that would work beautifully on the page, that i want to return to and have the luxury of reading myself, taking time to savour the language, the humour, the brilliant and witty wordplay.

i don't like being in a camp. i want to experience all kinds of variety of poetry and i don't like others being in a camp. i want us to be able to enjoy and appreciate one another's work, but i think this term: "page poet" is alienating.


Kate (and Mike) said...

I just wrote something about this too. I've had a problem with that distinction as well - I find it's value weighted (depending on what side of the imaginary line one believes herself to be on.) It is alienating.

Looking forward (in hope) to seeing people from both sides of the imaginary line listening to each other at VERSeFest. AND hoping the line doesn't mean that people stick to their familiar series and don't get exposed to the readers from other series. (I want to see Tree regulars at the Urban Legends shows and vicey versey, I do. Isn't that the whole point?)

Beatnik Mary said...

My experience has been that "page poet" is more often used by people who describe themselves as "stage poets" (i.e. NOT page poets). I've never heard someone refer to themselves as a "page poet" (perhaps people do, but I haven't heard it personally). As such, it's hard to hear the word without hearing the judgement.

To me it always seemed a bit reactive, a response by some spoken word performers (a group in which I include myself) to an imagined judgement on THEM by certain so-called "page poets." I hear performers complain that other poets (i.e. published poets who perhaps write and publish more often than they perform or compete on stage)say that a poem must "work on the page". 'But why?' they complain. 'Can't they see that the performance is so much more important?'

Sometimes this is true. Sometimes this isn't. Sometimes a spoken word performance is not a poem (if the Grammy category is to believed, it hardly ever is!). Sometimes a poem is not intended as a spoken piece (my partner does clever word play that is better appreciated when seen in text).

And sometimes the judgement on spoken word poets ("stage poets") is real. I myself have balked at claims that spoken word is a "less traditional" form of poetry. My opinion is that it depends on how far back you go to define the word tradition.

But all of this debate of "stage" and "page" seems unnecessarily divisive and makes the poetry scene even less accessible than it already is. Imagine a poet walking in to a poetry show or a writing circle or a slam competition, excited about sharing her or his work, only to be met with politics and sniping among the poets? It happens constantly, and I cannot believe it serves any positive purpose.

Sometimes I worry that as writers, poets, performers, etc., etc., we keep attaching more and more labels to ourselves and to each other. At times it seems like this is just a way for us to more accurately define ourselves (a storyteller, for instance, might be a spoken word artist but not a poet). Sometimes, though, it feels like we do it to try to add more legitimacy to our profession, like there's something WRONG with "just" being a poet, or a writer.

Amanda Earl said...

well said, K8 and BM. thank you for your comments.

Rusty Priske said...

We need a new word that encompasses both (other than 'poet', that is too easy)

Mage Poets?
Sage Poets?