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.
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.