Sunday, August 08, 2010

We Won the National Poetry Slam Again (thoughts)

(I grabbed this photo from the Pioneer Press article). A few thoughts:

1. For those who missed it, my team (Saint Paul) just won the National Poetry Slam for the second year in a row. We faced NYC Nuyorican, Durham and Austin Neo in the Finals. It was a close bout.

2. NPS, all in all, was a good time. A few teams I'd have liked to have seen in Finals didn't make it, but that's how it goes. Hip Hop Headquarters was a great time. The Asian/Pacific Islander Open Mic was the most inspiring event I went to. The bouts themselves were pretty good, at least ours were. As the home team, we had lots of people at each one-- definitely an advantage, but whatever-- it was fun.

3. Quick note on the "victory lap" poem. It was actually my idea. Not conceptualized as a victory lap. Just wanted to get our fifth member on stage, and he happened to have a PERFECT "thank you and safe travels" poem-- the HOST said "victory poem." Sorry if it came off differently.

4. Did the new repeat rule make Finals a better show? Probably. No, it wasn't the most mind-blowing finals ever, but I doubt the no-repeat rule would have fixed that. It's weird. We won last year largely because of the no-repeat rule, but Finals suffered for it. I like the idea of forcing poets to have deeper pockets, but I hate an underwhelming Finals. It's arguable that this year was still an underwhelming Finals, but I don't think we can blame the repeat rule. We all just have to step our game up as writers and performers.

5. That said, I performed my handshake poem tonight. Not my favorite/best poem, but very strategically useful. I want to have something more suitably epic next year. That's the best part of NPS-- being inspired to get better. Lots of writing to do.

6. I have to immediately get back to work. A show tomorrow night at the End Slavery Now Conference at the U of M, finishing up the new mixtape, setting up a Fall tour, organizing workshops and events for the Canvas' fall schedule, a million other things. Please don't ask me how it feels to win nationals. I ain't got time for feelings!

For real though-- huge thanks to everyone who has supported us this past week. Winning NPS is cool, but it's only worthwhile if we can USE all that attention and press to BUILD our local scene-- poets can grow as artists, new poets can emerge, audiences can multiply... that's what I'm really excited about.

Below is the transcript of my handshakes poem:
HANDSHAKES
The weirdest thing about having your hand crushed is that the pair of eyes across from yours never stops smiling. As knuckles are compressed, as the skin is all but torn off the top of your hand, he always has this stupid grin on his face. Even as the vein bulges from his neck he smiles, until you grudgingly mumble, that’s quite a handshake, and he releases you.

As a young man, I was taught that one’s masculinity is tied directly to one’s handshake, that when meeting another man for the first time, no sin was more unforgivable than placing a limp fish in his hand, the dead husk of a greeting. Your grip must be firm, like the way you hold your briefcase as you walk to work, or the way you hold the handle while standing up on the bus.

Some men, however, prefer a grip like a battle-axe mid swing, like ripping the head off an antelope by tugging on the antlers. Some men treat every handshake like a gladiator’s death-match, a test of strength, a test of will.

And when I meet these men, as I often do, their tectonic plate handshakes never fail to illuminate my myriad inadequacies. Frozen there with purple fingertips, I am reminded that I cannot stand the taste of beer, that cars confuse and frighten me, that when faced with a barbeque and a pair of tongs, I will overcook the meat every time. These men attempt to squeeze the testosterone from my body.

Maybe I’m just insecure. But studying his smirk more closely, I think maybe that would make two of us. Because as he wrings the color from my fingers I find myself wanting to ask him:

Do you ever feel trapped? In the mornings, when you’re watching SportsCenter and happily downing that protein shake made from raw eggs, liquefied steak and Axe Body Spray, do you ever crush the glass between your fingers? Do you ever get tired of the voice in your head, you know, the one that sounds like Dennis Leary, telling you to constantly reaffirm that you’re a “real man” by catcalling women, eating enormous hamburgers, and squeezing everything really, really hard?

I find myself wanting to ask him: Do you hold your wife’s arm like this when you’re angry with her?

Is there a teddy bear, somewhere in your history, being ripped away from a pair of hands that just aren’t strong enough? Do you remember the first time your father wouldn’t let you hold his hand when crossing the street? Do you remember the way he looked at you? Do you remember being handed your first-born son and not knowing how to hold him? Do you remember squeezing his shoulders like this the first time he disappointed you?

Do you remember what it was you were trying to hold on to?

And I know: there is so much space between us, as men, that sometimes we feel compelled to cram as much contact as we physically can into every touch. I know.

We’ve become so comfortable with crushing, so hypnotized by our own strength, we forget: how incredible it can feel to let go.

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