07 April 2005

ladies and gentlemen of bohemia...

tonight i was at a Ruddy Fantastic event, an i must comment on it for a moment or five.

the silent slam,curated by Sandra Alland and hosted by a new events company called Meniscus was unprecedented (to me, anyhow) in the world of "nights of poetry". gone were the lung cancer candidates in berets pondering from atop barstools about the states of their livers; this was a Truly modern and literary feast. yay!

but before i tell you all about it, you must let me back up for a short moment. (you must. this is my blog after all, the ultimate in late-night tv-less navel-gazing ventures.)
this posting wouldn't be steflenk worthy without a slight meandering into some sort of nostalgia. so.
it was the nomadic era, probably about 10 years ago (holy shit, i can actually say that something happened 10 years ago that i remember!) that i was wandering around in Frankfurt, Germany, looking for something cheap and entertaining to do (yes, yes, who wasn't wandering the streets of Germany 10 years ago looking for cheap entertainment?) when i saw some tattered paper sign up for the nuyorican poets, putting on a slam at some embassy or other. in english of course. i think it was the word english that pulled me over, and the word slam that baffled me just enough to head out to it. definitely, it was not a pre-meditated outing, nor was it a likely one, in a land of german-speaking-ness and backpacking poverty.
anyhow. the evening was a bunch of Awesome writers citing verse impromptu, written on the spot, singing it, moving it, hip hopping it..., and a whole lot of confused but accomodating krauts in the audience (i can say that, i'm a kraut myself, although i think i've probably misspelt the word, for some reason i find that rather funny)
the night radically shifted my view on "poetry" proper. there was stream of consciousness writing, there was formal rhyme and rhythm, but it was all kind of shaken up and real, and above all things, fathomable. in layman's language!
at the time i remember making a connection between poetry and musical lyrics for the first time, and realizing that our equivalent to the romantics of centuries past lies frequently in the lyrics of musicians, and we are in fact surrounded by the stuff.
but even after that i still remained unmoved by those tiny books of verse hovering in the peripheries of indie bookshops everywhere. (furious blush) i know. it's wrong. but, truth be told, there is some poetry i read that shakes my universe, and alot that i read that leaves me as tepid and indifferent as cold tea.
a.a milne is, to me, Poet Extraordinaire. as are lewis carroll and e.e cummings. stephen crane's poems from the "dark riders" probably tops almost all novels i proclaim to be life changing favourites. but some of that other "my love is like a great big loon from rural saskatchewan" stuff has left a sour taste in my mouth for making the forray into other lesser-known writers of verse. usually i stick with novels, to be frank, they are straight-up. perhaps i haven't been up for the challenge of poetry. who knows.

anyhow.

the silent slam.

two laptops were set up in a boxing ring type style in the Drake's basement, with projectors above them, connected to the computers. poets went two at a time, facing off, with a view of their own screen projected onto the opposing wall, behind the other poet. they were given two words (in round 1), one word and one painting (one of my paintings, be still my self-absorbed and eager-to-be-involved-heart) in round 2, a word and a photograph (one of three by Aviva Armour-Ostoff on auction) in round 3, and in the last round they were made to write on the subject of DJ murr's spinning, which was going on for the duration of the event.

my experience with poetry (traditionally, anyhow) is that of this immensely private undertaking, and So subjective, and often so loaded with intellectual tripe and "if you don't get this you're obviously daft" pomposity, that the mere notion of sitting down in a crowded room full of people to address it face-on makes me apprehensive and doubtful. but the way silent slam was set up, people milled about, drank, chatted, bid on auction pieces, and also watched the screens and poets as they typed away. this informal set-up took pressure off the writers to "perform", and pressures off the audience, who were still taking part in this immensely personal experience, but one which accomodated their need to exchange pleasantries with acquaintances, chat with friends, and, yes, dear bohemians, drink beer. and the work was Fantastic. FANTASTIC. i asked to be put on the list of interested buyers when they put together a chapbook of the event, not to mention finding myself seduced into coveting yet more books (of the poets involved).

watching the poets type also brought on this odd realization of the relationships many modern writers have come to have with computers: some poets were preoccupied with font type, size, placement, some pounded out stream-of-consciousness impromptu diatribes, some sat for 5 of the 10 minute time limits pondering and then carefully typed their well-chosen words in. all of them were completely absorbed in the task at hand.

sigh. HOW AWESOME for poetry. this format might be a new way to take away the stigma, the "oh-for-the-love-of-allah's -elbows-please-don't-start-on-the-poetry" feeling one gets sometimes when the P word comes up at nights out, when one is behind on one's reading, and worried about sounding clever.
which, i must confess, i sometimes do. sometimes. it's the mark of a simpleton. but it's a Glorious Glorious life.

6 comments:

alpHabit said...

list of possible UNSTIGMATIZED references for the genre Formerly known as (gasp) POETRY:
1. the P word
(in the spirit of L)
2. per verse
3. lingo-istics
4. cliteration (by the ladies)
5. dicktion (by the gents)
6. hard bard card
7. flung lung tongue
8. heard nerd word
9. neat beat feat
10. fine line vine
11. theme scheme beam
12. prime rhyme time
13. long song prong
14. writ wit bit
15. wise rise cries
16. vibe tribe scribe
17. think link ink
18. slowed mowed ode
19. love dove shove
20. Synapse Chaps Raps

haut rote vote said...

if you see a gawd-awful film, you don't dismiss the Entire art form as being a waste of time. i wonder why the World of poetry is so often outcasted by ONE encounter with the treacherous twinkling tractor treaty testament?
i once read that a Great poem "...stays with you for life... it connects you to something much larger than the lines themselves...", a sentiment, a "coming to terms" of a human experience that words often fail to capture. knowing such a poem off by heart, so that you can call upon it to Provide when the need arises, renders the poet, in effect, a wizard casting magic Spells.

stay o'pen, "poetry" is Worth sifting through for the diamonds...

JacobZ said...

Adam Phillips, in a BBC interview quoted by Steve Mitchelmore:

Adam Phillips: We might look to poetry now because poetry is marginalised - which is the best thing about it! It's freeing people actually to be able to work their own way. People are only going to be poets now if they really want to be. There's no money in it and very little glamour. That seems to be promising. The only pay-off of being a poet now is writing a good poem. And this seems to hold within itself the possibility that people will be freer with their own thoughs. They’ll be less preoccupied by being winning, or by being charming or indeed by selling anything, because they’ve got nothing to sell.

I think the new thing that might be happening is that the new sane artist will not be seeking recognition. That is whereas the mainstream of artists will be seeking recognition, fame and fortune, the new sane artist will have to dispense with precisely that quest to do their work.

Melvyn Bragg: Why is that important?

AP: Because it frees you. Because once you relinquish the market (and that doesn’t mean you don’t earn your living), once you relinquish the saleability of your art now, you’re now freer to have your own thoughts. Because, insofar as you’re interested in marketing your thoughts, you have to be pre-occupied by a fantasy of what people want. It makes you compliant; it makes you inevitably servile to a fancy of the audience. Whereas if you have no audience, that interest drops out.

MB: But having no audience can often mean for people not having the time to do the work they want to do. They have to work in a bank, or teach – do jobs which tire them and therefore when it comes to do the work they want to do, there is no energy left to do it.

AP: I can see that. But also I think that is, now, the deal. Which is people will have to find other ways of making their living if they are to produce real art.

AGreatPoem said...

Indeed indeed, I cannot tell,
Though I ponder on it well,
Which were easier to state,
All my love or all my hate.
Surely, surely, thou wilt trust me
When I say thou dost disgust me.
O, I hate thee with a hate
That would fain annihilate;
Yet sometimes against my will,
My dear friend, I love thee still.
It were treason to our love,
And a sin to God above,
One iota to abate
Of a pure impartial hate.
(Henry David Thoreau)

notsoanonymousblogcommenter said...

stef
how did it feel to have words Drawn From your painting, and which painting and what keyword were used?
did anything written shake you?
have you ever considered illustrating poetry? ie. the reverse procedure.
how do people's Oral interpretations Feel to you, in comparison to your own sentimens, about what is Visually Voiced in your art?
might be neat to see the painter paint and the poet write simultaneously; mutual muses.
and finally, would love to get my hands on the said chap book if you could post those details...

steflenk said...

hmm. my computer for some reason hasn't forwarded these comments, so just now have i read them.
re: jacob's comment...INDEED. i remember a million years ago i sat in on a friend's creative writing class whilst at Concordia in Montreal, and Erin Moure had come in to guest lecture or something, and either her or a student, (actually i think it was some guy from Sweden. which is of course significant :] ) said: "what would poetry be like if we could all make a living at it?
that is such wisdom to me. i think it might
be apropros for all arts.

whoever sent the Thoreau, THANK YOU. (sigh) there's just a Wealth, isn't there.

(at this juncture i must assure everyone that i am NOT a poetry hater. NOT AT ALL. but i have indeed been hesitant to delve into it, vast genre that it is.)

re: the silent slam face-off with my painting...the painting was a new one called "meditation" which is actually on my blog but not yet on my website... and the key word was (thumpa thumpa) bookseller. i was especially honored and excited by di brandt's poem. it was cool. it was a poem about Her. not about me. but there was engagement (with both the word and the painting) that evidently prompted whatever personal experience she was writing about. and That was AWESOME. AWESOME.

i have rallied forth that a chapbook with the poems of the entire evening be printed somehow, and will INDEED post on the details if that comes through.

and yes, i've Utterly considered illustrating poetry, insomuch as i've Utterly considered illustrating Many things for other people. i'm still at a point where it fills me with excitement but also a nameless apprehension. i'm pretty good at knowing my own ideas intimately, but not other peoples'.
well, that's a generalization. i have had a few instances of success.
that's kindda where i hope freelancing might take me. who knows, though.