Goodbye to Slam

Some of you may be wondering “Dylan, what ever happened to the Ontario International Poetry Slam? That thing you blogged about.” Well, I lost. I didn’t lose miserably, unless you consider coming in fifth to last miserable, but other than that I had a good time. It’s also made me decide that the Poetry Slam just isn’t for me. It’s taken me awhile, but quite frankly I don’t like it that much. I thank it for getting me into poetry, but I honestly think we can do better.

Aside from that, I enjoyed most of the poets, and while I disagree on who got past. I would have voted for other people, but ultimately I feel that the winners deserved what they got. Good luck to everyone, and I hope you enjoy yourselves.

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The Inevitable KW Poetry Slam Rant

Trigger Warning: FUCK YOUR GODDAMN TRIGGER WARNING!

Dear KW Circle Jerk

You want a fucking rant? I’ll give you a goddamn fucking rant!

I have tried to be polite, and I have failed. I have decided that I will talk to you in the only language you understand, rants. This is a difficult process for me, because I’ve been taught to hold back on the sheer amount of concentrated rage I can express, so that I don’t offend, or more importantly frighten, the people around me. Well to be quite frank, I have been offended, day in and day out by you. So because we are all one big happy poetry community, I am going to bring up some of my problems with you.

1) YOU ARE NOT CUTTING EDGE!

I have heard you call yourselves cutting edge. This is a bold-faced lie. The KW Poetry Slam is about as cutting edge as Justin Bieber. The only real difference you have from Justin Bieber is that you are working in a genre that wants to be popular, but isn’t. Sure, Slam Poetry is better known then the academic branches (whatever those are), but at the end of the day you are still the popular form of the left-wing, and you are still pandering to your audience.

Let me make this clear. Women have been writing about how their vaginas are beautiful vortexes of creation since the 1960s. It has been close to fifty years now. It is no longer cutting edge. It is cliché. The Poetry Slam has been around for almost thirty years, it is not longer the new form, it is the establishment. Every Slam Poet writes about some cause. Heck, I’ve written about police brutality. I have yet to see anything at the KW Poetry Slam that is something I would describe as new.

You want to write about being a feminist, that’s fine, just don’t call yourself cutting edge unless you are.

Actually, what would make a poem cutting edge anyways? That it is faster than previous generations of poems? That it’s not only a poem, but a camera and a butter knife and what have you?

2) FUCK COMMUNITY

This connects to my accusations that you are pandering to the audience. I hear a lot about community at the KW Poetry Slam. I hear a lot about community in the Poetry Slam world in general. You know who else has community? INBREED CANNIBAL HILLBILLYS!

Actually, that’s not a bad way of describing the poetry slam. Controversy to sampling aside, poems have been known to be recursive for years, centuries even. I’m not holding cannibalism against the Poetry Slam in general. It’s the incestuous hillbilly thing that bothers me. You average Poetry Slam usually has the same few people, and eventually rules start developing. You expect certain things. You start so what anytime someone says Marc Smith. Why do you do that? Really, has anyone ever explained why this happens?

Anyways, my point is that the KW Poetry Slam has itself up so that a certain kind of poetry keeps up. It’s not that Kitchener-Waterloo only has poets from this kind of area, it’s just that the KW Poetry Slam attracts the same kind of poet. And they all do the same kind of poem. The “I am a beautiful snowflake and I am going to tell you about all the horrible things those rich white men do, but don’t worry because we have the power to change the world,” poem. Seriously, that is the only poem I hear from you. Could it kill you to write something that has nothing to do with that, and maybe, I don’t know, grow as an artist?

3) SOCIAL COMMENTARY ALONE DOES NOT ART MAKE!

I’m not saying art isn’t about social commentary, I believe that is one of art’s functions. My problem is that you are only social commentary, AND IT IS GETTING ANNOYING.

“Oh, Dylan, you can’t say that,” says the Slam Poet. “You’re just ignoring the fact that our society perpetuates rape, and Stephen Harper is destroying our country, and that Israel is setting up a Holocaust in Palestine. You just don’t have a social consciousness, like we do. Don’t you care about saving the world?”

You know what Slam Poet? No, I don’t care about saving the world. Fuck saving the world. I am so sick of you going on about saving the fucking world. You only talk about saving the world. I am at this point ready to say fuck the world, let’s end it now and put it out of it’s fucking misery because I am sick of you saying that I need too.

“But Dylan, art can be a powerful force of social change,” the Slam Poet says.

No, art is not a force for social change. Art is a byproduct of social change. Was Hitler suddenly defeated by a play? Did Pol Pot suddenly decide not to commit genocide when he heard a poem about how bad killing people is? Among all the poems, all the songs, all the books and movies made about George W. Bush’s grand eight year fuck up, did he show any sign of stopping? At this point, your only hope of poetry having any social change, is that the wind caries your piss in the general direction of whoever it is you are complaining about.

Again, I want to reiterate that good art can, and does, discuss political issues. There is a difference between a work that addresses social issues, and examines its effects on human beings within a society, and a piece that just talks about them. There is a difference between saying “The War on Drugs has a negative effect upon society,” and “The Wire.” There is a difference between saying “Good art cannot flourish under a totalitarian state,” and “The Master and Margarita.” There is a difference to saying “Since 1993, there have been 5000 unanswered deaths of female factory workers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,” and “2666.” These works show fully realized human beings, humans with strengths, desires and flaws. Human beings who are not mouth pieces for the author to go off on whatever rant he feels like. These are what I like to experience as a reader and viewer. I’m not asking you to give the next Great Canadian Novel, but you could at least seek to try giving us something human instead of talking about what affects humans.

4) I DON’T NEED TO BE ANY GOOD AT POETRY, BECAUSE THIS IS A POETRY SLAM

I have gotten this response from a prominent member of the KW Poetry Slam. I will spare her the indignity of saying the name of this individual, but this quote has stayed with me. This is probably the most disturbing, offensive thing I have ever heard at a poetry slam. Talking about rape and genocide is expected, but this is something that I find disturbing on several levels.

I admit, I am not the best poet. I am not very strong at metre, and I write very infrequently. I do like to put effort into my pieces. If you have heard some of my poems, then you should know that the next time I perform them they will be different. In fact, I was thinking of reworking a few of them to have stronger mnemonic devices so I can more easily perform them without a page. And the Poetry Slam is a very seat of the pants type of poetry. But there is still that one line, that you don’t really have to care about poetry. You just want a creative (I use the term loosely) way to bring up social critique. Ultimately, you don’t change, and without change, you can’t have good art.

It may seem foolish, but I expect the standard of art I hear to be of the same standard as the guy who does my plumbing. My father always told me that you should put your best into whatever it is you do, even if it is something you hate. Well God help me, I love poetry. Can you blame me for wanting to put in a little extra effort? And can you blame me, for being offended when people take a thing I love and treat it shabbily, as if poetry was just a prop in their trunk of polemics?

So to wrap this up KW Poetry Slam, shut the fuck up and look at yourselves. Really look at yourselves. You are not as deep as you think you are. You are not as good as you think you are. You are not the avant-garde, you are not the new face of poetry. I am even going to say that you are not horrible. You are not offensive enough to be horrible. You are just average, and in the end that is a bigger sin then being horrible.

ADDENDUM: When I wrote this I was tired and angry at things beyond my control. If I have offended you, I am sorry, but I stand by my basic point. The KW Poetry Slam has become a recepticle of all the faults of the Poetry Slam form, and has become dry, unchallenging, and boring. It is ultimately inevitable that the Slam would become an institution, and with it loose much of it’s vitality. In the name of good art, it is time for us to seriously consider an alternative.

Class Update: Fall 2012

Among my classes this fall term is “Seventeenth Century Literature, Part One.” I hate this class. I hate the poems of this period. I hate how self-righteously clever they are. I hate how they are all want to impress an overblown aristocratic society. I hate the fact I need to go traipsing through the Internet on some scavenger-hunt to look for examples of “print culture” in the year 1617. It is an entirely toothless period, made up of miniature harpsichords played by pugs and Pomeranians in small tuxedos that are ostentatiously “whimsical” and meant to evoke a sort of “aww. Isn’t it clever we can get a small dog to play chopsticks.”

I will give the seventeenth century this though, it knows how to use metaphor. Metaphor is the main feature of this period, and they do it very well. The problem is I don’t know how to feel about that, since their reliance of metaphor may in fact be part of the reason I find this period so self-righteously clever. I feel poetry should not be direct, and the majority of poets in my community suffer from a naked obviousness that I believe really causes their poetry to suffer in quality. I bring this up to give the poets of the first part of the Seventeenth Century the credit they deserve, they may not be my thing but I do have to admit I appreciate their skill at metaphor.

My other classes are pretty good. My favourite is probably a mix between the comparative lit one, which concentrates on “The Damned Hero,” and the Honours English Studies, which is basically about the Odysseus tradition. Both of these classes involve me reading books I have been meaning to get to but would probably not have gotten into on my own. Homer’s Odyssey is the most obvious, but I’m also reading Goethe’s Faust, which I must say is one of the best things I have been forced to read at University. I am seriously considering learning German just so I can read this in its original language.

I’m also taking a course on German Popular Culture for my language marks. It’s an all right course, and I get on with the professor. It’s turning out to be one of those lecture courses I end up in. Most of my classes are usually in small rooms of between ten and twenty people. German Popular Culture has probably fifty people. This is by no means the largest class I’ve ever been in, the ill-fated Intro to Psychology class would take that dubious honour, but it is my largest this term. It’s still fun, probably the best large class I’ve ever taken.

So there is my impromptu update on my class schedule this fall term.

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