The Pros and Cons of the Spoken Word

I have recently read this article on SubTERRAIN’s website.

In a recent article in Calgary’s FastForward weekly, the empress of Canadian spoken word, Sheri-D Wilson, said that spoken word is the new small press. Actually here’s exactly what she was quoted as saying: “Our small presses are being diminished because of funding, and also because there’s nowhere to sell the books, because independent bookstores are being crucified by the big-box chains. Spoken word is the small press voice in Canada. It is the alternative voice.”

The idea that spoken word is the new small press is absurd in so many ways. As is the idea that small press is being diminished “because of funding” (what does that mean? because it’s funded? or because funding is shrinking? is funding shrinking?) and because indie bookstores are falling like bad rhymes at a slam. And as is the idea that spoken word isn’t about pandering to the audience.

As someone who has been involved in the Spoken Word, I have to agree with this guy’s statement. There are definite advantages to the Spoken Word environment, such as the fact they are usually pretty cheap in comparison to publishing, and they are also a bit more approachable. My main problem with Spoken Word is that they do have the element of pandering. My experience with the poetry slam has been one of people who talk about radical politics, or at least left-wing politics that likes to hang out a bit farther from the moderate porch, but largely speaking it to a group of people who are around the same area you are currently in. There is nothing radical about saying “Gay marriage should be legal,” to a group of people who agree that gay marriage should be legal.

Again, I only have my own experiences to go off of, but the article does mesh with my experiences. If people like the kind of stuff you see at a poetry slam that’s great, but I personally find it boring. I’m not interested in simple polemicism, I want poetry that reaches behind the nutshell of the everyday, the nutshell in this case being stuff like pop art with its indifference to the current world and polemic goals of the local poetry slam, to the rich, meaty filling. (Yes, this is a nut with a meaty filling, like a steak. I want to have a giant nut that opens up into a well-cooked steak.)

Unfortunately for me, I am not in contact with any of these independent publishers that I have heard talk off. This may be that despite the fact the town I am is bigger then the one I grew up in (which beyond a dash of that brand of high culture that makes the middle class feel better about itself was basically inhabited by Canadian rednecks), it is still not a major city, like Toronto or Montreal or Calgary. If there is a small press here, I am unaware of it. Writing this, I do recall a small publishing house but I also know they don’t publish poetry. So again, there are no small presses here for me to express my odd ball poems about summer animals and winter animals and unorthodox reinterpretations of Shakespeare characters.

SubTERRAIN – The Panderingosity of Spoken Word


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