"Poets should read in a controlled and compelling voice, one that lets the listener glide softly and gracefully under the spell of his verbal music. I do not go to poetry readings to be hollered at, hectored, harassed, bullied or read to in a stentorian style more appropriate for the amusement park."
--- A.S. Maulucci, from a Norwich Bulletin article titled "Slams are a Nuisance, and of No Real Use to True Poets" (Follow the link for the full rant. Be sure to read the thoughtful reply from another poet in the comments.)
To which I say:
This is National Poetry Month. There are poetry potlucks; haiku-a-day's; online poetry bookclubs, and yes, slams. I went to one at my local high school. It veered from slapstick (a poet slamming about being an athlete dropped his pants to reveal running shorts) to fem power (Seven Strong Women) to the most amazing controlled riff on being "black enough." I assure you that true poetry was present that night. Complete with hooting and hollering and shushing and cheering and crying.
I searched high and low for a bootlegged YouTube video that might have brought you there with me. No luck. But that's the thing about slams. You gotta be there. It's about signing up. Showing up. Not throwing up. What do you think those kids are going to remember from high school? The commutative property of addition? Or the night one of them admitted to not being able to deal with his mother's lupus?
The article I quoted from also says: "The work that gets read, recited or performed at these events tends to be trite, self indulgent, boring, narcissistic, embarrassing, obscene, boorish, coarse, uncultured, unintelligent, uncouth, or all of the above."
Of course. Add in self-pitying and you've got most of us on any given Sunday---and that's when we're trying really hard to be good.
I agree that poetry can and should be polished and lovely and intelligent, but the raw material it comes from is . . . well, raw. That's why slams work. Because we clearly see the rawness. And ourselves.
Which brings me to my poetry selection for today: Louder Than a Bomb, a documentary about the world's largest youth poetry slam. It releases on May 18.
Poetry Friday is hosted today at Madigan Reads.