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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A stage in the continued emergence of literary sensibilities…

It’s been a colourful few weeks since the quiet start of Rousing Departures. I’m still graduating back into the swing of things, mind you; getting a feel for all the buttons and switches, all while exploring a few new avenues of literary experience.

A good part of the fun has been Embiggen Books’ recent #bookshopsaredead event on Twitter. Essentially a light literary exercise, the gist is to come up with variations on book titles that reflect the changing state of the industry – what with the electronic book taking sales away from flesh, blood and paper booksellers.

‘Schrödinger’s Bookshop by John Gribbin #bookshopsaredead #bookshopsarealive’ was a pet favourite from my own attempts, and Warren’s ‘Do Booksellers Dream of Electric Books by Philip K. Dick’ was particularly apt. Also existentially angst-inducing was Russell Blackford’s apocalyptic ‘The Bookshop At The End of The Universe by Douglas Adams’.

There were of course, a number of other wonderful contributions, no less enjoyable, only I don’t want to repeat myself and I’m running out of the effulgent language I’d need to describe them all. Call me overly sentimental, but I feel from my end as if the experience has been comparable at least to some of what the ‘pussy is bullshit’ episode from Hitch-22 (the one that had Salman Rushdie producing ‘Octobullshit’) had to offer its participants.

Unfortunately for Embiggen, prior, and giving context to this fun, a sewer pipe burst at their new Melbourne location only a few weeks after opening. With a forced temporary closure, the chosen theme is deeply ironic. I hope the black humor has at least been as good for them as it has for the rest of us!

Embiggen Books, demonstrating considerable morale, have taken the product of this spree of words to artfully produce a number of beautiful posters, displaying them across their storefront during the closure. Producing something looking a little like this… (I’m flattered). Continue reading