Poetry Slam #002

… Don’t go looking for ‘#001’; I don’t believe I’ve published anything on the first one I rocked up to.

A couple of weeks have passed since the last poetry slam (my second) I rocked up to. Outdoors this one was, no less, yet the rain managed to miss us.

The occasion and venue: Wednesday the 21st, World Poetry Day, out front of the Adelaide City Library, as an almost-kinda Adelaide Fringe after-party. (At least the MC, Daniel, looked a little like he was hung-over).

This time around (not that the first was anything to be sniffed at), I surrendered to judging responsibilities, and lucky, lucky me, it was an exceptional showing.

I know that the judges in these things aren’t expected to justify their rulings, and poets can be precious, and all that, but I’m going to expound a little. I hope I’m not breaking any rules.

Maybe this’ll exclude me from judging again. Maybe I’ll be glassed. Who knows?

***

Something that’s been niggling my dendrites, in anticipation of having to judge a slam, is the use of words like ‘slut’, ‘cunt’, ‘twat’ etc. – i.e. how misogyny is being treated. (The same being true of racist and homophobic epithets).

While I do have issues with these words being used as expressions of abuse, I don’t see the role of a poetry judge as being some kind of moral censor. However, there is still, by extension, a matter of aesthetics that I don’t think can be disentangled from my ‘political correctness’.

Consider the difference between, say…

‘Was sick of being your “slut”, so I packed my bags and left’

and…

‘Sluts won’t sleep with me, even when they dress for attention, boo-hoo-hoo-hoo… It’s so hard being a man these days!’

The first is about misogyny, while the second is misogyny. Further, the second, self-pitying as it is, is insincere, and I’m not fond of insincerity in any art form. So I don’t need to be a ‘politically correct’ censor in order to have the use of this kind of language influencing the score I give.

I want a poet to open up, not to hide behind confected delivery or fire-breaks around the ego. So if a poet wants to use these kinds of words, they’d better be brave and up-front and brutally honest about what they’re on about – at least in as far as I’m concerned.

‘Slut’, was fired off just once during the night. I’m not sure what exactly the point was – there was rhyme. It was a clever little number. Maybe I was being a little clueless, but I marked it down from an 8 to a 7.5.*

Kami delivered a sincere jeremiad about the world he’s bringing a daughter into. ‘Slut shaming’, and the treatment of women in general wouldn’t have seemed out of place. Of course, it’s his poem.

I can envisage Kami handling the gender epithets with integrity and candour.

Maybe he’d want to correct me on my speculation. I can be a presumptuous shit, sometimes. I’m sure that’s not against the rules, though.

At any rate, I gave Kami a ‘9’. While I’m generally not fond of jeremiads, and I’d probably argue with a few things he said, given the chance, Kami, anxious as the sincere father, earned every single point.

The night however, was dominated by Red Uncensored (Jenny), and in a way that left scoring artefacts from things like performance order**, out of the question. It was wonderful, blind luck for all those who didn’t have to follow.

Literature, having been populated so much by the works of Cartesian dualists for so long, has probably robbed the language of the ability to adequately describe just what was so excellent about Jenny’s performance. It was a perfect synthesis of high-precision mechanics and expression; no ghost-in-the-machine, Jenny was just a perfect-delivery poetry machine with whatever it is a monist could call ‘soul’. Spunk? Pluck?

The timing… what timing! There were pauses and breaks, and changes of tempo, yet when it was over it felt like you’d just been rolled in the blink of an eye. What The Fuck Just Happened?

To accompany the high-definition, digital-fidelity, razor-sharp carving up of the allotted time, there was light and shade, and analogue, tonal variations across all points in between. If that wasn’t enough, the poem capped off making fun of impotence, which always gets bonus points from me.

Thankfully, not being called upon to explain my judgement, I just gave Jenny a ‘10’.

Really, I’m grateful to all-and-sundry who made the experience possible; library staff, Daniel, the other judges, the crowd, and of course, the poets – all giving good performances.

There was an air of excitement about the potential for these slams in South Australia, and all quite justified (IMHO).

Now, on the topic of words not being adequate, my own in representing these wonderful wordsmiths, and in general, I’ll leave you to enjoy some footage of Kami doing his own thing for South Australia in last year’s national poetry slam finals.

Kami at the 2011 finals – (2:27)

~ Bruce

* Update/Errata: As noted by Dunja in the comments, I’ve neglected to mention that the poet in question using the epithet was a woman – an important contextual detail. In an earlier stage of drafting this post, this was mentioned, however in the editing process, particularly the trimming of a number of paragraphs, the detail was lost. It is something I should have picked up on before hitting ‘publish’, but alas not… My apologies.

** On reflection, although it wouldn’t have changed the final results, I’ve decided to myself that I would have liked to have given Nigel, who went first, a higher score.

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4 thoughts on “Poetry Slam #002

  1. True, as a judge you don’t need to explain your “rulings”, but if you write a blog post in which you state that you ARE going to explain them, then you should actually do so. Rather I am left feeling somewhat confused by your speech about the different uses of the word ‘slut’, as although you point out contexts in which it carries different weight, you don’t actually mention the context in which the poet said it.

    You also neglect to mention that the poet was a woman, which means that by sheer virtue of a woman, she has better insight into what constitutes misogyny, sexism, and inappropriate use of the word ‘slut’ than do most men.

    You’re absolutely entitled to share your opinions on the internet, but if you’re going to level criticisms at someone’s work, this should at least be backed up by evidence, rather than a theoretical discussion that then glosses over what issue you actually had with the line ‘I hate your new summer haircut / you look like a slut’.

    Being slut-shamed by a partner about something completely irrelevant to your sexuality because they’re trying to upset you? Sounds pretty brave and honest to me.

  2. Thanks for the input, Dunja.

    You’re of course right, in pointing out that the gender of the poet is an important contextual detail, and I didn’t realise that my editing of this post had snipped that out. I’ve added an errata at the bottom of the post.

    Again, thanks for pointing that out.

    My waffling about gender epithets is probably a little ‘in’, having been a contentious issue amongst a community I’m a part of. If this weren’t a reflective post, I’d consider this a bigger problem that it probably is. All the same, I may at some point seek out a little criticism from a trusted critic/woman/feminist familiar with the context.

    My intention wasn’t to write an in-depth critique of all, or any of the poets in attendance, but to reflect upon the night. My choice of words when I wrote ‘…expound a little’, was quite deliberate, and somewhat at odds with your attribution of ‘you state that you ARE going to explain them’.

    My purpose in writing about these poetry slams is quite different to that of most critics, in particular it’s about my experience as someone starting to feel again while on a course of anti-depressants – something regular readers would be familiar with. Perhaps this is indulgent, and it may even seem that way to me upon reflection in future, but it’s meant something to a few of my readers, so I persist.

    Now, as to the line in question… ‘I hate your new summer haircut / you look like a slut’.

    It wasn’t clear to me that the wolf making this comment was to be despised, his partner sympathised with, or if it was a simple case of ‘ha! ha! He’s calling her a slut!’

    I don’t expect these things to be spelled out to me, but the delivery was incredibly jovial, and not dripping with nearly as much sarcasm as I’m used to. It just may be, that as a bit of a depressive, I need my sarcasm in large amounts, like some smokers need excessive condiments.

    Or, as I mentioned in the post, it could just be that I’m clueless. I may not be able to see past the blind spot afforded by my male priviledge, but I am vaguely aware of its outline, and I’m appreciative of women being forceful about communicating what it is I’m not seeing.

    If I convey confusion in this reflective post, it’s because I was left confused!

  3. Interesting analysis of the judging process Bruce. I was at the slam and have attended and competed in several others. I’m usually mystified by the result, though not in this case – Jenny was a worthy winner. But several of the scores left me a bit dumbstruck. Which is to say that, when it comes down to it, the scoring is largely subjective. No matter how well constructed and delivered the piece, if the judge doesn’t like the topic, or your view of the topic, or the look of you, or, heaven forbid, doesn’t know you as well as other competitors, it will influence the score they give you.

    I thought Mira’s use of the word ‘slut’ was entirely in context, so not sure why you would mark her down.

    I agree, I would have scored Nigel higher. He was on first, and judges consistently fail to establish a reasonable benchmark with the first slammer. If the first slammer gets all 9s, you have nowhere to go if the next 8 slammers are all better. Its like reducing the scoring range to 2 marks instead of 10 marks. Its crackers. On the night in question, the scores were clustered mostly in the 8 and 9 range, so they didn’t correctly represent the full range of performances.

    But, that’s slamming. It’s not a science. It’s not objective.

  4. Yeah, it’s definitely a subjective matter. That being said, and this is probably being overwrought for poetry slams, it’s a good thing in judging the subjective to be non-arbitrary (it works for ethical subjectivists).

    Slam judges obviously aren’t bound to this, I’m just prone to this navel gazing and meta-analysis.

    Probably, if I could put it this way, the context surrounding Mira’s use of the word ‘slut’, whatever the facts of that context were, subjectively weren’t available to me. Perhaps if the wolf was less lovable as a villain, or we got less of his perspective and more of the sheep’s, or as above, if the sarcasm was more acerbic, I’d have seen things differently at the time.

    Or it could just be that I was deaf to nuance at the time.

    I’ll be scratching my head about it for some time yet (maybe the penny will drop).

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