Thursday, August 25, 2005

a boy's first poetry slam

“If it hadn’t been for the traffic lights, I would’ve taken a different route.” T.J. Whalebotham

went to my first slam & read in it too. it was strangely exhilarating. not believing that poetry is a competitive sport & knowing that what i do isnt 'spoken word' (despite the verisimilitude of me speaks to me utters), i took the stage in the Ottawa Fringe Festival tent & performed an abbreviated performance poetry piece. the slam was hosted by the most graceful of hosts, Oni the Haitian Sensation. i spoke some words & read some letters off a page. the others had their pieces memorized. the intented crowd seemed to appreciate my performance despite its difference to the other presentations. & i enjoyed the heedy word filled tent atmosphere that was Oni's slam. there was a lot energy contained in that tent the night of June 22nd, 2005.

it's that frenetic energy that the spoken word form restrains with its undeclared structures/strictures. what i've learnt from reading & talking to the involved is that many spoken word poets hope to return poetry to its long abandoned roots in orality. accordingly, the relatively recent corruption of poetry is the result of the printing press & its progeny, photocopiers & computers etc. i've also noticed in talking to well minded, literate humans that some perceive a division between the performance & the page. does one require a text to observe a reading‑performance? usually not: altho one might be curious to see the printed page, one wdnt walk away feeling as tho one had been deprived. with spoken word, the live performance is fundamental & resulting textual sediment is derivative. since, spoken word practitioners envisage such centrality for the spoken word, writing is insignificant. this artificial division between literature & its reading (or performance & its literature) has led to a rendering of the text & its composition as insufficient.

an attitude has emerged in which the literary text is viewed as incomplete if it is deemed a basis for performance. seems that it has seeped into consciousness that there is something essential in the performance of a literary work that cannot be represented on the page. this may be a truism? is the literary merit of a text abnegated if performance/reading takes ink on page as a point of departure? this is a very recent shift in thinking about poetic practice: that there is a poetry of the page & a poetry of performance.

returning poetry to its fundamentals strikes me as a futile exercise. rather than reforming poetry according to its essence, spoken word poetry has developed into a subgenre with its own conventions, codes and criteria for production/exposition. as a literary practice that claims preeminence for the spoken word, spoken word deepens an illusory division between the poetry of the page & the poetry of performance.

is there something irreconcilable between the orality of spoken word performance & printed literature? there doesnt seem to be anything intrinsically in conflict between the printed page & the spoken word poetry pieces that i've heard/seen performed. seems that many of the spoken word pieces i’ve heard, wd be well suited to presentation on the printed page; some works better suited to the page than others. it is possible to consider any text an invitation to oralization. a text neednt appear score‑like as a prerequisite for performance. a cooking recipe (score‑like in a sense) wd be ideal raw material for a performance reading. on the page, a text designed for spoken word performance wdnt necessarily distinguish itself as such.

most spoken word pieces that i've seen performed (at this slam & at readings) message a politic or moral that often has to do with a witnessed form of injustice by which the performer & by extension the listeners have been repelled. the spoken word form with its unwritten code of convention that relies on techniques such as rhyme, message, story & a regular meter bridles the energy incited by outrage. repulsion with the horror of late capitalist existence is channeled into a form that functions concomitantly as discharge & restraint. it seems that if the anger at injustice werent suppressed by the straightjacket of the form that the energy directed at those injustices might just be directed somewhere instead of being circulated around, acknowledged & ritually dismissed. everyone goes home relieved of a degree of discontentedness & nothing changes. this is to say that what you speak isnt of much consequence; it's what you do that matters. an art work that identifies an injustice & stands still, safe within its form is just that safe within its form. seems that's why the winner of the aforementioned poetry slam, a visitor from California, won. cuz he satirized the form by presenting a piece comprised of a series of self‑reflexive propositions each one starting with ‘this is MY spoken word piece...' the form, tho unofficial, is so well understood by its audience and practitioners that sarcastic, self-satirization yields highly entertaining results.

the spoken word art form, as an unofficially code bound form assimilates its resistances & naturally ossifies under the weight of its popular conventions. clearly, it is by countering formulaic approaches that innovation in consciousness, culture & art can be achieved. perhaps the popularity of the spoken word form is due to its quotation & imitation of more popular forms of culture? furthermore, rather than confronting the represented injustice, poetry slam competitions reinforce the ‘merit’ based hierarchies & competitive ethos of social life under late capitalism.

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