The Poetry Slam at the Columbus Music Hall Friday night was pretty great – a lot of attitude, some very nice piano jazz trio accompaniment, and the occasional worthwhile poem. :-)
For those who may not be familiar with the concept, a Poetry Slam is competitive poetry; a combination of T.S. Eliot, performance art, and women’s figure skating judging. Poets recite/perform their poetry, the crowd hoots and hollers at every apt simile, hint of enjambment, end-stop, and iambic foot (or maybe at just what they think is funny), and five judges rate the results on flash cards, using marks ranging from 1 – 10. The highest-ranked poets (four on Friday night) go on to a second round, and the poet with the most points at the end of the night actually ends up with some cash. There’s a definite performance element to this, although it wasn’t clear to me just how much weight was given to the actual poetry vs. the performance of the poetry. My guess is that performance rates higher, given the quality of some of the poetry that made it through to the second round (hi, Jeff! I love you, guy, but enough of the iambic duometer – Birds sing/Phones ring/Bells chime/Poets rhyme). In any event, this was as far from a stuffy “poetry reading” as you can imagine, with the poets exhibiting a flair for the dramatic, and an attitude informed more by hip-hop than by the literary salon. It was, in fact, a lot of fun.
The poetry? A definite mixed bag. There were people who were certainly poets there, and good ones at that. I was particularly impressed by Louise, who performed a poem called “Adopted People” that was real and full of pain and beauty, and Scott, a wise and funny guy (not the same as a wiseguy, for what it’s worth) who ended up winning the competition. Both made it to the second round. So there is some justice in the world. But I have to say that I found some of the judging rather curious. Jeff, I love you, but there is absolutely no way you should have made it to the second round, even with the brilliant kitsch of “Nadia’s Theme” as the musical accompaniment behind you. One “poet” did an improvisational rant about all the Oppressive White Folks who are apparently responsible for dubious cultural detritus such as Ritalin and Mountain Dew. It’s a race thing, or maybe ageism/handicapism, I thought, remembering the Mountain Dew I had to drink at lunch on Friday. Maybe they’re out to kill all the black folks and the middle-aged white balding men with hearing aids. Sigh. Social commentary is great, protest is great, and some of my favorite poetry and music deals with highly charged issues, but I’m still amazed, and not in a good way, by ill-prepared people who incoherently rail against Yellow Dye #5 in Mountain Dew, claim that it’s all part of a dastardly conspiracy to keep the black man down, and then want to pawn it off as poetry. Please. I’ll take iambic duometer over that. No matter what color the skin/Or what shape you’re in/Simple rhyme or deluxe/Racism sucks.
But that was an aberration. I loved the idea that people got together and read and listened to poetry. I loved the jazz accompaniment. I loved the fact that a lot of people turned out. I loved Shaun Barber, Emcee Deluxe, who did not suck. And I look forward to doing it again, soon. Many thanks to Dan Thress and Shaun Barber for organizing the event.