Thursday, August 10, 2006

Slam Nation

The National Slam Poetry Finals are in our town this week.

And I went to a semi final bout last night.

We walked into the east side coffee house,

and I felt like I had walked into the international terminal

at JFK.

But more importantly, the room was jam packed full of soul.

I mean real soul, not the margarine variety you find in most venues.

If you don't know what Slam Poetry is, or have never seen it,

you are missing some of the best entertainment, (watch)

the best wordsmithing and delivery, and

some of the finest transmutation of suffering and injustice,

into art and expression anywhere my mind has traveled.

Slam Poetry was started by Mark Smith.

According to Wikepedia,

"Slam poetry is a postmodern form of performance poetry that occurs within a competitive poetry event, called a "slam", at which poets perform their own poems (or, in rare cases, those of others) that are "judged" on a numeric scale by randomly picked members of the audience. It can also consist of several poets performing without being judged.

The modern slam competition is most widely believed to have been started by Marc Smith, at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago, Illinois in November 1984. In July 1986, the slam moved to its permanent Chicago home, the Green Mill Jazz Club, where it began to grow.

In 1990, the first National Slam took place in Fort Mason, San Francisco. Now, the National Slam boasts approximately 75 certified teams from all parts of the United States, Canada, and other countries. Although American in origin, slams have spread all over the world. "

Last night, I watched as teams from San Jose, the Four Corners, Buffallo, Miami, and Sacramento duked it out with their wit and their minds, and their breath and their tears.

The performed in groups and as individuals.

The group bit on "Wall Mart" and the individual piece on

"Cheney shooting his lover in the face" was just too funny.

Ten years ago, after spending some time with Mark Smith

at another National Poetry Slam,

I gave a speech to the World Energy Congress in Houston.

I took one of Smith's more famous poems

and converted it into equivalent expressions of energy.

I called it, "Carbon on the Coffin."

I think I scared them.

Here's why.

Cat on the Coffin

It's you, Cat,
Cat on the coffin
Watching the pendulum swing,
A paw up slapping,
Trailing the unraveled part,
Stalking the dead man's brains
and finding a cold gray knot
Looking up and out
at the pallbearers' hearts.

It's you, Cat,
Cat felis catus catus
Scrounging near the twilight
for the already dead,
Claiming the troth
of the undertaken souls
While the weeping acidic rain
Taps hats forever.

It's you, amoral children,
Suppressing your fantastic fears,
Bending to peer inside the shiny box
Where a ludicrous shape
Begins to arise --
The cat-head winks.
Eyes grow wide.
Lips shout faceless,
"Be mine! Be mine!"

It's you, Doctor Spade,
Slipping your wiry brown fingernail
down the hip of her jeans,
Poking and dragging the egg yolk out.
Tomorrow's baby, a grappled breakfast.

It's you, cocaine fool,
Sniff-snortin' to feel so good
about so damn little
when you got so much,
Just wishin' your nostrils
were stainless steel
And your mind
a Pillsbury cake.

It's you, mid-morning American jogger,
wearing the shelves of J C Penny's
Like the stripes of your flag.
It's you, bike-outlaw,
Smelling of pig grease, Quaker State,
and Gulf Supreme,
Tattooing the buttocks of JoJo's little sister,
Head-giver whenever you please.

It's you, old veteran at the VFW Hall,
wrapping your loose lips around
another smudged glass of gin,
Bemoaning Tommy Dorsey's demise,
Foaming up a bromide lyric
Before your bowed head
makes a wrinkle on the rail.

It's you, subscribers to a thousand magazines.
And you,
the writers for a thousand magazines.
And you,
the publishers of anything that sells.
And you, the buyers of little children
On super-eight film video-cassettes
Color ! Sound !

It's you, hot-tubbers,
Finding it easier to suck
in the rush of a whirlpool
Than to speak
after the pleasure has passed.

It's you, Pink Hands Pink Face White Ass,
Screaming and stomping your feet.
The Old Blues Picker in the red silk shirt
taps his long

And you want to screammmmmmmm
him out of his addiction
But he just closes

It's you, nigger,
Bein' nigger,
Callin' the nigger downstairs
While you poke your nigger
Roscoe, to his bride.

It's you, actress
With the commercial hair, com-
Mercial lips, commercial skin, commer-
Cial smile, commercial sin

It's you, Cowboy-Sailor-Skier,
Player of football, basketball,
Tennis, baseball, hockey.

It's you, up there on the sixty-ninth floor,
Drinking Chateau Au Briand
From a newspaper thin glass,
Listening to Rachmaninoff,
Waiting for some Chicano sister
To come lick your Chopin.

It's you, Pork Chop
firing your twenty-two caliber pistol
at the front porch family
from your buddy's beat-up wagon,
avenging some asshole cousin's outrage
over a dead dog bludgeoned
by a blackjack pulled
from his sister's purse.

It's you, clowny politician
cultivating your crawl space
with the humus of little boys,
while bouncing aerobic dancers
fry Friday nights by the ounce
dreaming of the morning
when the dance will be over
and the feeding
Can 1 2 3 next begin!

It's you, disco partners,
counterpointing the wiggles of your hips
in unison with a world that marvels
at such profound rhythms.

It's you, pumping iron in the basement,
preparing for the fifteenth year
when your Daddy upstairs
will no longer pump
your mother's face

It's you shop-lifted children,
Taken away to sodomized slowly
And then slaughtered on the silver screen.

It's you, all of you,
Divided and sub-divided,
divided again
Split into units
Than the smallest

It's you
The cat has dragged you in.
He'll feast on you tomorrow.
The Cat, the hardcase cat,
Cat on the Coffin.

You're string between his teeth.
Mark Smith

And it is. And you are.

And we all know it.


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Blogger SB said...

This just came to us from an Israeli poet -- a different kind of slam.

Dear Willa,
I've been meaning to write to you since the terror attack in Seattle. What can I say to give you strength? It must have been a frightening shock to know it can happen there.
The war here has been nerve wracking. Nahariya, where you gave a talk and slide show [at the library] is a ghost town, with scars of katyusha rockets all around. In the beginning of the war I made 'runs' to a shelter in Nahariya to provide food for about 40 people. It was terrifying to go at the same time I knew I had to do it. [I have been bringing food to families in Nahariya weekly for the past 5 years]. The city has finally kicked in and has begun providing daily meals for those who are still there.
Ezra Ben Meir 'disappeared' at the beginning of the war, and only lately we discovered he and his family fled Nahariya after a rocket attacked half a block from his home.
I am in touch with the other poets from the Haifa group. Most of us find it difficult to write right now. We are too close up to what is happening here.
I am struggling to print out the manuscript to my new collection of poems. Because of the war all [!] the stores and shopping centers in our area are closed, and I didn't have ink for my printer. My husband literally risked life and limb to travel to Akko [Acre] to buy me a new printer. I've taken out a few minutes to touch base with you.
The news as I write this is the terror threat on airplanes from the UK. I wonder how much longer it will take for the west to realize that this fight is a much bigger one.
Yesterday my youngest son was drafted into the army. My stepson is in the reserves. I have started writing again.

Thinking of you.

Phyllsie Gross
Kibbutz Evron

9:10 AM  
Blogger SB said...

About Slam --

Slam is entertaining and some of the poets are both great performers and good writers, sometimes the performance carries it. There's wonderful invention often. I think if Shakespeare were here now he would have slammed. He loved the play.

But I've never liked the idea of poetry contests of any kind -- have called slam a "cross between a spelling bee and professional wrestling." And I get tired of being yelled at.

Lots of the Slammers don't read so they don't know when they are not original. Some do.

I think the worst stuff is necessary to get thru to experience the best. New writers often mistake intensity for content.

I guess the thing that bothers me most about the venues that often emerge from SLAM is that racism, sexism, violence against anyone basically is ok within the purview of the poem.

The n-word here is, for instance, not necessary -- shock value aside, there's other ways of making a point, and the language is racist. And that unacknowledged acceptance of the racist catastrophe undermines the message of the piece.

But the "Knife edge" words, horrific acts, and sexist plunges give performers points when the gauge is how loud a bellowing roar you can get from the crowd. I think the medium is a metaphor of our time.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps SB goes to different slams than I do. The ones I have seen are sensitive, deeply spiritual, and almost always within the realm of the best that poetry and art has to offer.

Many of the pieces are quite moving and profound.

Today, there was special venue of Jewish slammers, and it was truly powerful, and certainly timely.


12:10 PM  

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