David Hess

Slam Diary Extra


With the Slamlord’s help I slept through the artificial crows of the trucks, woke up late in the morning and sprinted down to the parking lot to hand over my quarters (still no ticket yet — leaving a secret admirer letter addressed to “the merciful meter maid” under the windshield wipers of one’s car does wonders). Although many pre-bout events were scheduled today like the Limerick Slam and the HISS! All-female open mic, I had my heart set on just one: the Hip-Hop Open Mic which was to go down at the Mad Bar from 3:30 to 6:00. “We’re expecting this to be one of the biggest events of the week, so get there early,” warned the program. The panel on performance poetry at Roosevelt University was scheduled from Noon until 2:30 but after the Slam Museum/Cultural Center fiasco I didn’t want to take any more chances downtown. Plus, I could perform my own panel in the privacy of the Doisneauian Slamhut. All I needed were some academic diva action figures like A PLASTIC TOY LACAN DOLL WITH DETACHABLE HEAD, INFANT SUCKLING MIRROR, AND VOODOO DOLL IN THE GUISE OF FREUD INCLUDING SIGNIFIER PINS TO STICK IN HIM – PLUS, FREE WITH FIVE PROOFS OF OBJET PETIT A, A LANGUAGE POET MARIONETTE WITH STRING AND REMOTE CONTROL-ACTIVATED VOICE BOX. Undeprogrammable messages are “Let’s subvert the contemporary dominant linguistic practice together” “The war of the anthologies will never end” “Do an MFA” “P-R-A-X-I-S, what does that spell? More aestheticized pseudo-think!” “I refuse to read your normative confessionalist fiction,” “Poetics (or Poethics) will substitute for politics, pass it on,” “Who got tenure?” “All my friends are so smart,” “Every blank page isn’t blank, dummy” “My poems are investigations into the palimpsestic nature of discursive coffee grounds, what’re yours?” “Don’t stress the apparatus” and “Who ya gonna call? Syntax-busters!” With Closed Listening in my hands I drifted off into the Never-Never Land of climate-controlled cognitive greenhouses and mirage-stocked menageries. Like I said before, this anthology REEKS OF THE PROMISE to kill two birds with one poetics, to claim language poetry as the future of the spoken word movement — a move similar to the one Bernstein makes in his essay “Poetics of the Americas” with its identification of “dialectic” verse, which is region-specific speech, with the past and “ideolectic” verse, which is supposed to be a global form of language writing, with the future (another instance of the old enlightenment game at work to see who can be the most modern and contemporary) — and to reserve a table for language poetry in the emerging cafeteria of “performance studies” while reinforcing its role as an advertisement for critical theory. (The term ideolect or “idiolect” can be found in where of all places but Jameson’s “Postmodernism”). On page 4 of Bernstein’s introduction we are let in on another kind of verse or prosody: the “non-Euclidean (or complex)” brand, popularly known as “non-linear.” Sorry Charlie, but mastery of the process of signification via a limitless negative capability and meaning-pumping indeterminacy does not a radical poetry make. Nor does it guarantee automatic universality, even if one’s area of investigation happens to be the materiality (I mean abstraction) of language. As a political tool, pure poetry and theory is — except in academic circles of course — what it wants to be: useless. The ideology of indeterminacy is so fixed in Bernstein’s writing that it seems to be there precisely to prevent a confrontation with what is most certain and most inevitable: death. Following in the goosesteps of the old intellectualist fantasy that criticism will eclipse creation and intellect dominate nature — mocked so ingeniously by Oscar Wilde with whom artistry, fantasy and imagination never die — Bernstein and the language poets produce a body of work from which change, temporality, and death — everything that is not a construction of discourse — have been more or less exiled. Like Derrida they attain immortality by founding their discourse’s raison d’etre on the permanent crisis of language and representation, supposedly sustained by the always already tour de differance — that which propels signification but eludes it. Freud already discovered this thing which cannot be contained by thought and discouse and it’s called the unconscious, JD. The dead end of linguistic radicalism — which hides its own idealism under the jargon of the text while privileging the intellect as the source of all judgment, the central determinant of all being — never ends. To quote Nietzsche — whose “eternal return” was his own reading of the unconscious — on the Church: “it has lived on states of distress, it has created states of distress in order to eternalize itself.”

The abstract on the book’s back cover says it all: “The time is right for such a volume: with readings, spoken word events, and the Web gaining an increasing audience for poetry, Close Listening opens a number of new avenues for the critical discussion of the sound and performance of poetry.” Never before has the narcissism of this avant-garde been so evident as in this blindness to anything but the imaginary ripples of their own imaginary newness, the self-validating reflection of their own discourse everywhere. Bernstein’s attempt to claim the innovations of oral poetries as part of his tradition has precedence in the whole history of co-optations by the bourgeoisie of modernist avant-garde strategies. Curiously, the post-structuralist theory that the language poets appropriated to appear radical was itself a result of the appropriation of modernist techniques by the bourgeois intellectuals. Backtracking Bernstein’s assertion that “unsounded poetry remains inert marks on a page”(7) would appear to be the grounds for a total reversal of the long-standing langpo valorization of the written over the spoken, the textual over the expressive. Hence, he argues, the purpose of “this book is to overthrow the common presumption that the text of a poem — that is, the written document — is primary and that the recitation or performance of a poem by the poet is secondary and fundamentally inconsequential to the ‘poem itself’”(8). And what an overthrowing! He even goes on to say that changes in wording, font, and kinds of paper constitute textual performances in and of themselves. Wow, that discovery frags my categorical paradigm back into the fucking pedagogical Stone Age!

So easily can he claim that literary criticism has ignored the acoustic element given the relatively restricted access to audiotexts in THOSE DARK ANTE-EMAILUVIAN DAYS BEFORE THE DIGITAL BOHEMIA OF THE SPLINTERNET, not to mention the difficulty — as you, my helpless reader, must be well aware of by now — of literally writing about live oral performances and trying to transcribe the vocal effects, the inflections and rhythms of the reader/speaker. After attending just one night’s competition I had pretty much familiarized myself with the full array of vocal styles used by slam poets — the poem that starts off with a spoken statement and then tells a story and climbs toward an emotional peak to then gently “fffaaalll ... baack ... dowwnn” and end with a concluding statement (Sean Libby’s schizoid mother poem and Becky Henderson’s deaf boy poem), the poem that goes at top speed from start to finish and often achieves its rhythmic effects through rhyme (Sean Shea’s “Mr. Politician” poem), the loud speech poem which is either humorous and tongue-in-cheek (Sheila Donohue’s “Mary Mary” poem and Amanda Nazario’s anti-girl poem) or a form of angry social testimony (Sonia Whittle’s ghetto poem which also employed some singing), or sometimes a combination of these two (Shawn Taylor’s anti-commercialism poem and Jamie Kennedy’s anti-mental health poem). There’s also, of course, the rapped poem (Bryonn Bain and Sage Francis), the groaning sex firecracker poem (Roxanne Hanna-Ware), the pep talk poem (Taylor Mali but better examples were to come) and the theatrical group poem, like the one performed by Santa Cruz which mixed rap with exaggerated slam intonations. I can’t really represent this on paper but I’ll try: “Charrr UUlz Burnn SSTEEN izz Daviiiiiidd GuurraYYY Professsssoooorr UV Poetrryyy andAH Litt IRZZ....” or something like that. O UNCONTAINED PHONIC PLENITUDE AND PLURAL TEXTUAL EVENT! (Coming upon such bloated phrases I am reminded of the “palpable nothing” beloved of the Symbolists which was parodied in “The Fifth Wanderer” by Kaverin, one of the Russian Formalists or fellow-travellers who rebelled against such metaphysical pretensions, pretensions which still reign today in both avant-garde and mainstream circles). In the end what Bernstein proposes is little more than Projectivism — which sought a balance between the written and the spoken — dressed in non-normative (or “Introjective,” see Chain #3 for his earnest parody of Olson’s manifesto) clothes.

Bernstein, as always, produces a sequence of outworn, fixed theoretical statements in the name of indeterminacy, plurality, and openness: “To speak of the poem in performance is, then, to overthrow the idea of the poem as a fixed, stable, finite linguistic object; it is to deny the poem its self-presence and its unity”(9). Such a sentence COULDN’T OVERTHROW A MOLEHILL! Bernstein’s seductive modus operandi, like that of every good poststructuralist, is to alter the terms of the discourse in order to generate the illusion that the objects of the discourse have been subsequently altered. Intellectuals and English teachers like Bernstein as well as every ruling class in history have DONE THEIR DAMNEDEST TO HIDE THE FACT THAT WORDS DO NOT CHANGE NOR DETERMINE THE NATURE OF WHAT THEY REFER TO. This lie can be seen in the linguistically essentialist assumption of poststructuralist semiology that the sign produces the absence of the referent/object — or subject in Lacan, the signifier acting as both the subject’s substitute and phallic determinant of desire – so that language and simulacra replace the real. But, of course, if everything has become simulacra and text then the real cannot be said to have disappeared as that is just another simulation, the illusion of the real’s disappearance. Ironically, his declaration that the performativity of a poem ensures that no one performance can be isolated as the original or authoritative text — a replay of the old indeterminacy argument (a poem or text like Mein Kampf has no definite meaning, which, if it were true, would then automatically be false in the manner of the old “Cretans are liars” trick out of which Derrida has manufactured his entire career) — seems like a move to escape or suspend a critical (vs. descriptive) reading and interpretation, not to expand it. The dual aura of orality and aurality deposes the once monotheistic-like ‘signifier’ and becomes the new gold to be mined and converted into a coherent poetics of destabilization, a phrase which could also apply to one T.S. Eliot who made use of ironic, disjunctive surface effects via collage while reinforcing a conservative, symbolic map and intellectual foundation. (And, hey, there may be a lot of money to be made in the production and distribution of audio recordings of poetry readings!) Bernstein continues with his trailblazing work of constructing a poetics of the poetry reading by saying the exact same thing he has already said ten times in the last five pages: “I am proposing that we look at the poetry reading not as a secondary extension of ‘prior’ written texts but as its own medium”(10). Then why, I ask, do we need all this writerly theoretical baggage to consecrate the reading as its own medium? And yet the reading, according to Bernstein in another GLARINGLY SUBTLE backtracking, may be termed “anti-performative” or “anti-expressivist”(10), both of which are modes that, unlike spectacle and drama, unite speaker and listener in the friendly, democratic partnership of working together to constitute the poem’s meaning — a further idealization of the reading, like the old bourgeois idealization of poetry itself, as an inherently utopic space. The backtracking reaches a fever pitch with his attempt to claim originality — that unoriginal game — for aurality itself and to reconnect the voice to the body: “[b]y aurality I mean to emphasize the sounding of the writing, and to make a sharp contrast with orality and its emphasis on breath, voice, and speech — an emphasis that tends to valorize speech over writing, voice over sound, listening over hearing [???], and indeed, orality over aurality. Aurality precedes orality, just as language precedes speech. Aurality is connected to the body — what the mouth and tongue and vocal chords enact — not the presence of the poet; it is proprioceptive, in Charles Olson’s sense. [...] My insistence on aurality is not intended to valorize the material ear over the metaphysical mouth but to find a term that averts the identification of orality with speech. Aurality is meant to invoke a performative sense of ‘phonotext’ or audiotext and might better be spelled a/orality”(13, all italics are Bernstein’s). Self-parody can’t be far behind this circular (I mean square) argument: “one of the primary techniques of poetry performance is the disruption of rationalizable patterns of sound through the intervallic irruption of acoustic elements not recuperable by monologic analysis”(13). But already “sound is an arational or nonlogical feature of language” for “[s]ound is language’s flesh”(21). These definitions, like most every other one proposed for language, poetry, and performance in Bernstein’s essay, sound pretty monologic to me.Or, to put it more succintly, HE CONSTANTLY FORGETS THAT ANTS COULD EAT HIM. My definition of Bernstein would be a crafty missionary who, in exchange for offering the natives an eloquent defense of their ‘multifoliate, multivocal’ religion and culture, proceeds to convert them to the church of monologic analysis (poetry practiced as academic politics otherwise called “poetics”) through the sleight-of-hand of his legal brief language, or sumpin lyk dat. Of course, the defense was always a false one to begin with because the sine qua non of social constructivist/ poststructuralist ideology — that cultural constructs determine the nature of everything that comes within the orbit of discourse, that all social orders and cultures can be read as discursive formations, and that everything is readable and understandable as a textual construction (one of the most racist, phallocentric, and Eurocentric theories ever) — denies one the ability to speak for others and their cultures, and, therefore, holds that what one says cannot apply to anything outside one’s own culture and discourse. “You were the first to teach us something fundamental: the indignity of speaking for others,” once remarked Gilles Deleuze to Michel Foucault. A self-fulfilling prophecy for indeed THESE WOULD-BE RADICALS DO NOT SPEAK FOR MUCH MORE THAN OUR TOENAILS.

Soon it was time to depart for The Mad Bar. Trusting the program, I was expecting a huge turnout but found the bar to be crowded with room. The Annoying Poetry Show had just ended and the hip-hoppers, perhaps repulsed by this opening act of wackness, were slowly bouncing back in. I grabbed a seat away from the stage where I could nearly hide my note-taking, ever-unslammable ass. Instead of creating a scene by whipping out my notebook, I chose to write on a flyer that was lying on the table in front of me. The green flyer advertised something called the “North American Poetry Jam,” or Nap Jam #5, “the pow wow for performance poets” which would be taking place in Las Vegas in September (the first one was in March 1998). The flyer explained that the “‘jam’ is a kissing cousin of the poetry ‘slam’, with the same emphasis on performance, but slam uses competition, while jam uses cooperation.” Unlike the Slam Championships, simultaneous events are not scheduled at a nap jam so that everyone can see everyone else perform, and be seen by everyone else. Also, “a major purpose of nap jam is to create a series of video products that become ‘the norton anthology of performance poetry for the 21st century’” as again there may be much money to be made from the selling of Slampoo commercials. My prediction that Vegas would become the hotbed of some new poetic movement has come true, even though I was not anticipating that naps would be involved (and there really are slots on the nap jam calendar for naptime). Maybe the casinos will hire some of the ‘jammers’, as they’re called, to jam outside the casinos with the hope of luring in deaf customers or to help their elderly clientele take naps. The Venetian already has singing gondoliers and the latest addition to the Strip, Paris, has beret-wearing French dudes on bicycles, so WHY NOT TROUBADOUR JAM LAND whose cafes are filled with frustrated, scribbling poets? To learn more about nap jam be sure to gamble it all at http://users.aol.com/bowerbird. My notes from The Mad Bar are extremely scattered as to which performer said what, especially since it was an open mic and thus there was no program available with bios on the poets. Anacron, a local Hip-Hop artist, was the host of this event along with DJ Darling. The structure was simple like at all open mics: sign up and perform when it’s your turn. Most of the hip-hoppers rapped about hip-hop, often with much nostalgia for the good old ‘old school’ days and much disdain for the more current and commercially successful forms of hip-hop to which Puff Daddy and Master P and fellow Caesar-Catulluses would most likely reply with an angry anti-‘player-hater’ rap. In addition to the hip-hop theme other poets sang unsurprisingly about life in the ghetto, racial issues, and sexual politics. I tried to get down some of the more interesting lines and phrases, at least the ones that I could understand which were few given my sorry suburban white boy ear. Playboy Copper Kid told a tale of hip-hop youth: “hip-hop set out in the park / we used to do it in the dark / ring the alarm another sound is dying.” Some guy named Mark rapped a poem called “The Truth” in which he spoke of getting arrested for DWB (“Driving While Black”). The beautiful Angela sang of interracial romance: “once you go black you don’t ever go back.” I was willing to test her hypothesis but she didn’t give out her phone number. Anacron, I believe, preached against the reduction of Hip-Hop to “official Wu-Tang outfits” and spoke against selling-out artistically. Some guy from the Nuyorican Cafe team got up and worked the crowd proclaiming “I come from the reform church of lyrical lucidity / I am perverse with free verse / I CHARGE MYSELF FIVE DOLLARS EVERY TIME I REHEARSE / I sing of Nubian civilization, yo my God goes back / centuries before our communities were destroyed by crack.” Another Nuyorican rapped about “Jesus Christ Ghetto Superstar,” which was himself, “the mecca of the open mic” and “being baptized by break beats” and then went into a not-so friendly sermon about his women problems: “I got issues / you bitches is / pissing me off!” I don’t know who, but someone spoke honestly of trying to survive in the world, always “thinking of what to wear / to cover up/ the lump in my throat.” One last Nuyorican asked “why I am I the only black man / with the Wall St. Journal on the C Train / life is nothing but stress I’m still / trying to think of how to put / my son through high school / without wearing a bullet-proof vest.” Compared to this talking raised to a rhythmically free-form art, spoken word, which has its roots in rap, so often sounds like a sing-songy, watered down version of its close relative.

By 6 p.m. it was time to begin the trek down Milwaukee Ave. for the first bout at the Chopin Theater. The teams: Champaign-Urbana, Chicago-Green Mill, and Worcester, MA. The theater was filling up fast and I ended up sitting in a badly-lit section near the back which made manual recording of oral conflagrations even more perilous. My hip-hop dazed state was wiped away when a woman sat down right next to me and asked, “what are you here for?” “For the, uh, the um, poets,” I answered frightfully, having not learned the lessons of Taylor Mali’s poem. “Good,” she said in the most delighted of voices, “so you can be a judge.” A DOSE OF VERTIGO WAS BEING INJECTED INTO MY BEING’S BONES. “No,” I pleaded, “I got to take these notes for an article, you see, I can’t be a judge.” “Come on, being a judge will make for a great article,” she replied. “Please, I was a judge for a slam like a real long time ago and I was terrible, I still haven’t recovered from it,” I explained without lying, thinking back to Providence, 1994. Then a woman leaned over the seats and asked if she could be a judge. I looked up to where heaven was supposed to be and thanked whomever was up there that took the time out of their happy eternal sunny holiday to save me from the hell of being a slam fatemaker. After the emcee’s rule speech, the sacrificial poet was brought up onto the stage in transparent chains and forced to read by the FIRING SQUAD OF SILENCE that met him. His poem took a jab at slam stardom: “I wanna be a rock star-type poet, the poster child for the broken word” who will buy out?/shop at?/destroy? “the Starbucks of syntax” and “the WalMart of killer metaphor.” Sheila Donohue started off the first round for Chicago. Her poem was a bit more serious than the last one I had heard: “it bothers me that my gun isn’t loading / that people who are healthy are still dishonest / car alarms really bother me / it bothers me that I need more variety / it bothers me that poetry has come to this.” Champaign-Urbana’s Farah Claude gave more of a speech than a poem on the theme that “black excellence is dormant.” Worcester’s Seren Divine read a poem that I think had to do with poverty: “change rattles in loose pockets / somewhere wills are broken.” Champaign’s Juanita Morales began the second round with a mediocre poem about her Native American heritage: “you see, we have this story, you know it goes like this...” which again, like so many other poems I heard over the course of the week that struggle to put their finger on the pulse of the problem and don’t quite succeed, brought to mind Mali’s poem. She had used “Custer” as an equivalent for “The Man” and, after receiving low scores, stood up and yelled “CUSTER IS STILL IN DA HOUSE!” Dave Eye from Worcester narrated a belly-aching poem about a football game between The Apostles and The Giants. Lot’s wife, for instance, played center and was reduced to a pillar of salt which resulted in lost yardage. Noah, a linebacker, made several sacks with his Ark-style defense. The Quarterback for the disciples was, of course, “Jesus ‘the Rocket’ Christ.” With his no huddle offense, he made a final drive for the end zone: “The Savior fades back, avoids a tackle by Judas, and throws A Hail Mary pass to the Pope, touchdown for the Pontiff!” The Green Mill’s Maria McCray then read a moving poem about her grandmother, a hero who had many “children and one husband to raise.”

Worcester’s Tony Brown commenced round three with an interesting poem about a sculptor who built his sculptures out of nuclear waste. I think this sculptor was a fictional person but I’m not sure. Chicago’s Ken Green, bless his soul, read (from paper) what for me was the best poem of the whole slambang. With his “ELVIS SHOT JFK” T-shirt and nerdy glasses, the quiet, shy-looking Green, whose poem from The Note last night I couldn’t remember a thing about, unceremoniously cranked out an echelon of lines describing what kind of fuck we all really want: “the jabbing, poking Jurassic Park fuck, the block out the sun fuck, the neighbors dialing 911 fuck, THE COPS AT THE DOOR FUCK,” and on and on until culminating in a “we don’t want peace on earth, between the races, to explore outer spaces,” we just want the in the middle of rush hour traffic, on the airport runway tarmac fuck, scaring the tigers up the trees and the trees up to the moon, stopping the safari in its tracks kind of fuck (his examples were much better than these). Again I wish I could have written more down but I think you get the picture and suggest that you compose your own prayer of fucks (this would make a nice hotline). Green got a near standing ovation and rightly so. It was the perfect slam poem and cut through all the tiresome posturing of other poets with their hyper-cultivated slam accents and super-precious personal hardship and triumph stories/speeches that, if it weren’t for the three minute rule, would go on for another ten minutes. Green’s poem had more attitude in it than anyone else’s because he didn’t need to show it. It was both cool and exuberant, aloof and unrelenting, holding our attention in the vice of its blistering momentum while chopping it to pieces with outrageous turns of phrase that were right on target. It was a real work of art. It was probably THE MOST EXHILARATING POEM I’VE HEARD PERFORMED BY SOMEONE MY AGE who, along with the rest of our generation — black and white, gay and straight, male and female — grew up under the shadow of AIDS (Green is black by the way). Charlie Berg of Champaign’s team finished up the round with an inspiring poem that contained lines like “I can smell the city in a cigarette,” “we are anonymous fragments of a rebellion,” and the terrific “I write because I feel so good that I’m certain I’m about to die.” Green Mill’s Reggie Gibson, who won the individual slam competition at last year’s Slam Finals in Austin, sang a poem that I thought was about fucks but turned out to be about funk. He tried to capture the essence of funkness in his poem and the result was overkill though according to slam community standards he was doing everything right. I’m positive that his poem at The Note the night before had also been about music, a jazz artist in particular. His program bio confirmed my suspicions: “Reggie Gibson, 31, poet, bard and educator, lives on the west side of Chicago. Sometimes when he writes political poetry, HE SITS BUTT-NAKED LISTENING TO COLTRANE WITH A STICK OF JASMINE BURNING,” which has to be the archetypal urban image of artistic sincerity. And I don’t think he was joking. Gibson demonstrated much skill in his performance but the trendy poem-about-a musician or music, painter or painting really has been overdone and Gibson just epitomized it (by the end of the week I would hear three more poems from him about musicians as he attempted to imitate their playing of instruments — air slam). Champaign then put on an interesting group performance as each poet “[added their] own scream and whispers to the orchestra of life,” describing “the soundtrack of [their] life that will be played at the kegger after [their] funeral.” Worcester’s Kyria Abraham’s recited a funny poem about a sign she saw in a restroom that read “all employees must wash before returning to work” and had the same message under it written in braille: “if you’re blind how do you know the sign is there?” I’m certain Chicago-Green Mill won this one.

I went looking for a new bar, Roby’s, on Division St., not too far from where Phyllis’ was. Round Two was in progress and the slam was being held in a corner of a mezzanine which was already blocked by the backs of upright bodies. I decided to hang out by the bar and drink up, the ... um, ambience. Ann Arbor, Chico (CA), and Minneapolis were competing and, fortunately, they pretty much all sucked. Some guy read a poem in which the phrase “summa cum modem” was used, I guess, to make fun of dot.com royalty. I was about ready to log off. Then another guy read a poem in which he repeated the line “Poetry Beats Godzilla!” way too many times. I stayed just long enough to hear him get a low score of 4.7. Taking my last swig of the, uh, atmosphere, I left that adorable cesspool for The Subterranean and caught the tail-end of the bout between Albuquerque, Portland, and Montreal. Rochelle Hart, I believe, was performing the last poem for Portland when I arrived, one of those sex firecracker poems whose new prince is Ken Green: “I’m nervous, he’s nervous / driving with a stick, pump the clutch / slip into first with hydraulics and lubricants / where the hell is that exit? Is he ever going to get off? / the guardrail, the headboard / maybe next time you should drive.” The bout ended in a tie between Portland and Albuquerque: 112.1 to 112.1, a sign of things to come. The final bout began around 10:30 and I recall that the emcee read the rules in the voice of a Catholic priest saying mass though I might have been hallucinating this from ingesting too much, er, DIRTY BAR NECTAR. Either Tara Sheth or Jena Weatherly went first for the Dallas team (it seems I grew tired of writing down names because of, well, having breathed in a large amount of slam vapor) and it was yet another sex firecracker, only not as light-hearted as the others: “love is as permanent as my death” and “reality is the day after.” Some guy from San Jose’s team read a typical slam poem: “the only sense of security I have is when I’m holding my nuts” and “I’m getting pissy drunk on absolute misery.” Baton Rouge’s Jeremy Garland, a white boy, said he wanted to grow an afro so big he would have to get “afro-reduction surgery” and “forklift in its comb” creating a “hip-hop oil spill,” which was greeted with hisses and heckles, not kisses and chuckles. San Jose’s Robert Karimi got things going in a more positive direction with a humorous poem about his Iranian-Guatemalan heritage: “get down with your Muslim-Catholic self!” he yelled, asking the necessary questions like “do I pray with rosaries to the east?” “How can there be 5 pillars, 7 sacraments, and 10 commandments for 1 god?” He then invited everyone to “get down with your Jewish-Taoist self! your Hindu-Baptist self! your revolution-stinking self!” and so on. Someone from Baton Rouge’s team read a poem but I can’t say anything about it since I can’t read my notes for it. I can make out something about A JAGUAR WITH LOCKED BOWELS but I don’t think that was it (again because of slam fumes). Clebo Rainey of Dallas narrated a bar tale. “I liked it at the bar!” he screamed with glee, telling of days long past when he did things like slam cocaine and not much else. Baton Rouge’s Mike Melancon recited a poem about Ezra Pound who supposedly spent part of his twenty-third year in Baton Rouge. This doesn’t seem to be true since Pound turned 23 on October 30, 1908. After losing his teaching position at Wabash College (after having lost his graduate fellowship from the U. of Pennsylvania), he left for Europe in the early spring of that year, eventually reaching London by September, or so I am told by C. David Heymann’s Pound biography, The Last Rower. Pound did, however, return to the U.S. for a brief time in 1910 (one of his last visits until being brought back, all Kaczynski-looking, in 1945) though Heymann doesn’t tell us where he went and anyway, who gives a fat rat’s ass?

Dallas (Tara and Jean) performed a group piece that made me immediately want to move to the Lone Star State. This was the Black Cats or Cherry Bomb of the sex firecracker poem genre. Moaning in their best Texan drawls and crawling over each other’s bodies like horny rattlesnakes, they basically committed illegal acts of public indecency while teasing the audience with lines like “be free, come with me,” “sweet Jesus, I arouse your clit,” “with a ram he’s in me” and “yes, father, I’m a whore.” A few men in the audience, of those who weren’t speechless, shouted out a loud “gaud daym!” WHY DON’T THEY JUST LAP DANCE FOR THE JUDGES, I thought, or at least announce “I’ll do anything for a 10, bulging bronco boy.” San Jose’s Melinda Corazon Foley read a poem about the dangers of expecting too much from poetry which could have been a criticism of the narcissistic side of slam culture: “poetry does not excuse us from living / your poetry is not a pharmacy / your soul accepts the wisdom you are given at birth / only through your speeches were you ever alive.” Some guy named Wammo was the third round-stretch individual competition poet. Like a plastered born-again preacher gone hog wild, Wammo ranted about getting fired from an “alternative” radio station for playing on the air a song by rapper Ice-T and it totally slammed. Dallas’s Jason Carney gave us a poem about his Southern heritage, living in the capital of Mississippi where the Confederate flag flew and I think still flies (as I recall the state flag has the confederate flag inscribed within it). While he celebrated Sunday mornings at church, he berated his fathers for “practic[ing] at turning their heads” in the pervading presence of racism. He spoke of his daughter who is half-Thai and told us the hick-Thai greeting she will one day use which went something like “Dai Sadika, Y’all.” Like Robert Karimi’s “Muslim-Catholic self” poem, this one drew strong cheers from the crowd. A poet from San Jose’s team took a timely shot at the totally annoying Taco Bell Chihuahua mascot which serves as a “nice, non-threatening image of Mexicans” — one of many examples by which social groups are silenced by a simulacrum of their own cultural expressions. He spoke of “the drinking contest for my soul” in reference to the media’s commodification of ethnic identities and dreamed that the ghost of Ché would SHOOT THAT FRIGGIN’ SPEECH-SIMULATING POOCH so he could roast him for the meat in a fiesta whopper. Many enthusiastically applauded this poem as well. Baton Rouge’s Clara Connell ended the bout with a poem that was about something though I’m not really sure what. Something about “Mr. Toupee Man,” “a sputnik in denial’s orbit,” and “hand over the keys to Simpson’s Porsche.” The final score was San Jose, 114; Dallas, 113.5; Baton Rouge, 109. Soon it was back in the slam buggy. I steered for home where I dozed off on the couch as I read through the program for tomorrow’s events. I saw that the panel on performance poetry was scheduled for Friday (in the event description section) even though the actual calendar listed it as on Thursday (while the newspaper article had listed it on Friday). To hell with this Foocultness and the open mics, I was going sleep late and assassinate the afternoon with the continuation of my own one-man panel.


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