Saturday, April 17, 2010

MORE thoughts on writing, slam and spoken-word

I had the pleasure of traveling to St. Louis with Khary Jackson and Sierra DeMulder for a couple of shows and a workshop this weekend. Had a great time, got to perform our favorite pieces for people who have never heard them, and got to just TALK... about slam, about writing and about the purpose of art.

You may have seen these points I posted a few days ago. Here's an addendum, spurred by some of our conversations and my own private thoughts:

11. One of the things I love about slam is that it's participatory. The audience is supposed to respond to the poetry. Ooooohs. Aaaahs. Snaps. Whatever. This is fun. But what's been happening lately is obligatory audience response, not sincere audience response. Audiences are being shepherded by a poet's friends or team members, who are "oohing" and "aaaahing" to pieces they've heard a million times before IN ORDER TO shepherd the audience. On top of this, all too often, these audience responses are undeserved. A poem could start with "it was a dark and stormy night," and someone in the audience is going to say "OH SNAP" or "WHAT" or "OH MY GOD." It's getting ridiculous. It's BEEN getting ridiculous.

And me and my team were guilty of this at Nationals, I'll admit. You get caught up in the moment, looking for any possible edge or tenth-of-a-point in the scoring. But I'm done with it. No more.

12. Related to that, audiences have recently been conditioned to respond to the rhythm of a poem as much as its writing or content. They laugh if a line should be funny, whether or not it actually is. They'll "ooh" and "ahh" at the poems rhythmic climax, whether or not it's well-written or meaningful. Again, this is a function of the participatory nature of slam, and it's cool that the audience is so READY to be entertained. But it's just kind of weird. That's one of the reasons it's been so much fun these last few months to perform for audiences who have never seen slam before, or who are used to a very different style of spoken-word (as opposed to Minnesota Emo Literary). You have to really earn positive responses.

13. Innovation is generally talked about as a form thing, though I prefer to think of it in terms of content. I agree with people like Marc Smith, who call for (paraphrasing) "more weirdness" in slam. However, weirdness doesn't have to be about form. It doesn't have to be about writing in ultra-complex meters or using obtuse nosebleed imagery or talking in a funny fucking voice. It can be about saying something new. Attacking an issue or idea from a new angle. Telling a story from a new perspective. It seems simpler, but it's probably harder to do. I'm focusing on spoken-word here, but this point is even more relevant for rappers.

14. I think it'd be good to start seeing more "spoken-word music videos," as opposed to performance footage on youtube. We can be creative and do some cool things. Ed Bok Lee has a good one. Ryan Hurley has a good one. There are more out there, but not as many as you'd think. I'd like to explore this.

15. Come to the events! Here's the info:

~April 22 at the Bedlam Theater is the Hip Hop and Spoken-Word Theater Festival/Preview. I'm debuting a segment of my one man show, "The Fist that Lives in Your Neck."

~April 27 at Kieran's is the Minneapolis FINALS.

~April 30 at Peach is the Punch Out Poetry Slam

~May 3 at the Artists' Quarter is the St. Paul FINALS. (I'll be competing in this one)

Anything can happen. If nothing else, all the shows are going to be good. The National Poetry Slam is August 3-7 in St. Paul.

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