Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Words in Your Face! and other notes on slam/community.

No, not the name of the latest slam venue in West Bumblefuck, Mississippi, but the name of a new book on the slam phenomenon in New York by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz.

An interesting mix of old heads and new heads on the New York City slam scene were out in force to celebrate the publication of the book, as well as the 10th anniversary of the Urbana poetry slam series. While it's great that someone has written a book about this crazy scene, my feelings are mixed. I miss it some days: the general air of give-a-fuckedness that marked my first days in it, the irreverrence that comes with being able to thumb a nose at "academia" and the stuffy airs of "page poetry." These days, however, I feel like I'm writing much of that page poetry that I once decried. Which means, of course, I had no clue what I was talking about.

Today I'm not as horrified about the stuff that passes for "slam poems," because I think my expectations are different. Is the average young slammer in it because they are looking to be published? Clearly this is not the Bob Holman era at the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe. This is the post-Def Poetry on Broadway, post-Reg E. Gaines, post-Saul Williams amalgamated slam scene looking for acting gigs, college gigs, any gig that keeps the lights on. I mean, that's cool, you do what you can to get by, but I'm not looking to the slam crowd to speak to my poetic sensibilities. How much can you move me as an artist when priority #1 for you seems to be to tour and couch-surf and hang out with your fellow slam deadbeats? I know one slammer in particular who is proud of the fact that he doesn't read other poets, because he doesn't want them influencing his art. I don't think he has to worry about that.

Spoken word artists (and I use that term derisively) are looking more and more like everyday paid entertainment. Shuck, jive, and cha-cha to the fullest. Today I find spoken word artists all over glossy flyers, clogging my inbox, attending $500 slams, and lobbying MySpace for a section between Music and Comedy. And of course, they do this thing...for the love. Where's my spoon? I say, let's at least have some honesty about this: where's the spoken word artist willing to do weddings and bar mitzvahs? Hell, I know one that takes credit cards.

But. Lest anyone get it twisted...this is the scene that nurtured my first artistic impulses. Granted, I slammed at the "elite" venue, Bar 13, but you bet your ass I was out at the Nuyo, Urbana, and anywhere else some fool dropped an open mic. Even Acentos, my baby, our baby, got its start because its founders were reacting to conditions within the NYC slam scene: that is, where the hell were the Latinos on these open mics and slams? Luckily we didn't get swept under the spoken word rug, and luckily, my tastes as a writer changed and deepened, as they should, as they still do with some. But yeah, I found my legs in the slam scene, and I still thirst for some sense of a community I called/call home. I hope to keep this thirst as I move into different venues for community...and I certainly hope Acentos retains this urge as well.

The MFA program is going well, by the way, thanks for asking. I have two great professors (Rigoberto Gonzalez and Lewis Porter) and two good ideas underway. Last night, the germination of a third took some hold. Keep your fingers, toes, eyes, and wires crossed, y'all.

Happy gobblegobble to the folks, much love, and stay safe.


oscar bermeo said...

Re: Latinos in NYC Slam when Acentos started-- Ed Garcia, Bonafide Rojas, Mayda del Valle, Anacanoa, Fish, Karen Jaime (former Nuyo slammaster), Carlos Andres Gomez and myself to name a few. Just wanted to make sure that everyone gets their proper due. Ya know?

On another tip, starting Acentos was always about getting more Latina/Latino poets on the Open Mic. If after feeling comfortable on the Open, they chose to go to another venue to Slam, then cool. But that desire to have representation on the Open Mic was always the main focus.

By the way, did you pick up a copy of Cristin's book? I'd love to hear some feedback about the text.

Didi Menendez said...

Hola -- thought I'd stop by for a visit.


Rich said...


Hola back. Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again soon.


Duly noted: that list of poets of is pretty comprehensive. Some interesting points here, some worth writing down for posterity, que no?

Francisco Aragón said...

Glad to read a new post here.

Recently sent DM manuscript for Ocho #15. I had fun putting it together and am glad you and O are in it.