David Hess

Slam Diary Extra


And that I did. After another nondescript arousal, shower and paralyzing breakfast while watching a Sally Jesse Raphael episode entitled “I Want a Fresh Start Without You” — wives confronted their abusive husbands with demands for an apology in the course of revealing to both the men and the enraptured studio audience their brand new makeovers — I picked up where I left off in Closed Listening and island-hopped from chapter to chapter, dropping my HATS OF ITCHING POWDER on the local populace who shot back with poison-tipped violins and unidentifiable bodily organs. The first essay, Susan Stewart’s “Letter on Sound,” wasn’t so bad with its obligatory yet interesting section on Hopkins. I don’t know whether to call her definitions of speech and lyric essentialist or just obvious: “Speech disappears into the function of its situation; it can be repeated as fixed text or reported in an approximation. Song, by virtue of its measure, is fixed and repeatable, although it is, like all utterances, subject to transformation. It is the tension between the unfolding semantic pressure of speech and the asemantic pulse of measure that defines the possibilities of lyric art” (37). Duh, spoken language plus rhythm will make you a little ditty. Moreover, “[s]peech in a poem, like speech in the face-to-face communication of everyday life, is articulated in time. But unlike speech oriented toward conversational functions, speech in a poem is not absorbed in time” (37). Duh again, since the purpose of a poem and everything in it, as with all works of art, is to last, to absorb time and not be absorbed by it. Is she getting paid to say these things? I had a lot of problems with Nick Piombino’s “The Aural Ellipsis and the Nature of Listening in Contemporary Poetry.” Although I don’t have the psychoanalytical training to comment on his use of the concept of the “transitional object,” the essay is strewn with vague vaguenesses, tries to say it all, and so ends up undermining its own elliptical ideals: “The effect of the ‘aural ellipsis’ in poetry allows that, at certain points, the poem may exist within AN INDETERMINATE SITE OF SIGNIFICANT VERBAL EXPRESSION that is simultaneously physical and mental, objective and subjective, heard aloud and read silently, emanating from a specific self yet also from a nonspecific site of identity, coming toward comprehensibility and disintegrating into incoherence. This analysis or representation, we may find on close examination, frequently corresponds to specific moments of everyday experience far more accurately than the fictions of perception proffered under official categories of self/identity determination and factual authentication” (54). He cites Joan Retallack’s book, Errata 5uite, as an example of a work that utilizes “words as they appear to us in the inchoate flux of everyday experience” (66) even though a paragraph later he identifies such writing with ‘metalanguages’. Retallack’s library-bound poems have about as much to do with everyday experience as a flat tire has to do with Antarctica. Piombino claims that “[a]t poetry readings where such poems as Errata 5uite are read aloud, and listened to conscientiously, both poet and listeners are working together collaboratively to expand the boundaries of spoken and written language” (66). I’m so tired of this bullshit about “[t]he reader or listener [being] invited to become a participant in the creation of the poem’s overall aesthetic context and its meaning” (67). Notice that he says “aesthetic context” and not political or material context. Any poetry whose representatives have to continually stress this gesture towards an imaginary coparticipation or collaboration should make one extra-suspicious. Way back in the 50s artists like Rauschenberg (and Retallack’s Cage) were going on about participatory aesthetics as if it were radically different than other practices of consumption , a fraud quickly exposed by Warhol’s active rejection of the avant-garde’s productivist demand for iconic plenitude as a top-down elitist charade. Hear me out, collaboration is the langpod code word for psychological warfare — how fitting that it should be articulated by a certified shrink. There is no howdy-doody coparticpation possible between Erratallack and its readers — language poetry’s elitism can be seen loud and clear in the equation of the reader with a stereotypically lazy, passive consumer needing to be jump-started into everyday awareness by “collaboration” — because Erratallack sets the terms of the discourse. The younger generation (the “readers”) must waste its time and energy and poetry working out the meanings and/or meaninglessnesses of the older one, a system analogous to the one dominating philosophy today in which the “critic” is condemned to the job of correcting the last philosopher’s mistakes. And seriously, after working most of the day the last thing I want to do is work to construct the meaning for a poem that doesn’t give a crap about me. I don’t see how Piombino can celebrate this kind of writing when he acknowledges that we live in a society where “[t]here is so much to communicate and so little time and energy available to listen in an atmosphere of constant trauma and anxiety” (70).

Bruce Andrews has got to be the Robert Bly or James Dickey or Jorie Graham of the 20th-century avant-garde. Will somebody please do me the favor and tell him and his protégé, Brian Kim Stefans, that USING DIFFERENT FONTS IS NOT RADICAL! Their poems’ typographic effects are the visual equivalents of the typical slam poem’s overdone vocal effects. Andrews’s “Praxis: Apolitical Economy of Noise and Infomercialism” proves once again that he has nothing more to contribute. Notice how in the second paragraph he just presents books by Adorno and Attali as emblems of critical authority and goes onto to say nothing about Attali’s work and maybe one thing about Adorno’s. Andrews thinks he can make up for a lack of artistic substance with “progressivist social claims” (73), most of which have rotted into A SINGLE POSTMODERNIST HAIRBALL OF RHETORIC. In other words, he has to work overtime on his endless poetics press release to justify his poetry because it so often blows. His categorization of cultural history into “the era of Representation,” “the era of Repetition,” and “the era of Composition” (all 73) is far beyond the reductive and the preposterous. His talk of “the emancipation of sound” (74) is nothing but a rehash of Marinetti’s parole in libertà. And like Marinetti, who was a frustrated symbolist before inventing Italian Futurism, Andrews, in his poems, comes off as a frustrated lyric confessionalist (just as Silliman comes off as a frustrated novelist in his own writing). I downloaded Bernstein’s interview with him at the goddamn Buffalo poetics LINEbreak webpage and, having never before heard Andrews read his poetry, I expected a furious, in-your-face performance that the work would seem to demand. There was, however, nothing disruptive about his reading of “Devo Habit” at all, no sharp curves and fast turns, NOT A CRUMB OF SHOCK or excitement. It was slow, boring and predictable — a smooth, smug, white boomer intellectual verse relying on the routine of disruption to achieve an aura of contemporaneity (the perpetually new mark of authentic avant-gardeness), theoretical depth (a joke since the poem is all surface) and innovation (read: originality, another principle the langpods claim to reject but clearly do not). Like Derrida, Andrews idealizes the operations of repetition and rupture to the point where they blur and the structures that were supposed to be subverted are then reproduced. All his babbling about “resistance” and “the social,” like Piombino’s talk of coparticipation, is such a facade for the closed circuit in which such an aesthetic program can be formulated, a circuit made up of intellectuals — and producers who are also the group’s consumers — who valorize the contemporary and the social and yet refuse to acknowledge the worth of anything outside their own narrow, puritanical tradition. His claim to represent the social explicitly contradicts his claim to overthrow the “representational ideal, with subheadquarters in Identity and Image” (74). “The given totality sucks,” we are told in Confidence Trick and Andrews just does it the honors. If the Adornian analysis is true, that the “whole” is entirely false and capital has infiltrated every single social relation, then calling for a non-commodifiable art, as both Adorno and Andrews do, is absurd. Their social analyses, which have restricted the question of artistic practice to one of the proper analysis, the proper ethics and the proper politics (instead of actual needs), make their aesthetic stances laughable — Adorno for his writ-in-stone identification of art and value with autonomy (the intellectual fairy tale par excellence), Andrews for his inability to imagine an art with any genuine autonomy. Despite all his brilliance, Adorno contributed to the decline of philosophy by forcing it into the role of an inventory of misery (a la Foucault) and to the reification of art into purely a matter of philosophy (read: bourgeois art history) which refuses to acknowledge any art made outside the restricted (“autonomous”) field of production. In fact, his demand for autonomy flat-out contradicts his argument that art works should avoid closure and intensify contradictions, not resolve them (and so he does, in a resigned way, practice what he preaches).

The real astonishment is to be seen in how Adorno’s thought unwittingly mimics the operations of exchange value — like Lacan in his condensation of social relations to relations between signifiers which is, amazingly, an accurate description of life under capital and the rule of commodities — by equating together every kind of violence — whether it’s genocide or buying records. (Concepts like Lacan’s lack and Derrida’s deferral/differance are accepted as true, I would argue, not because they are but because they portray, without saying it, conditions experienced under capitalism as well as usurp the throne of the irreducible Cogito without which bourgeois philosophical discourse cannot operate). One begins to wonder what cultural prejudice is really at work when his reason for criticizing jazz syncopation is because it “derides stumbling” (a quote taken from his essay on Brecht). Though I’m no music expert, I think the same could be said for Schoenberg. Andrews’s attempt to identify his practice outside the space of identity and the commodity is another intellectual pipe dream. HE SPEAKS FOR THE STREET ABOUT AS MUCH AS A FABERGE WRECKING BALL SPEAKS FOR THE SAHARA DESERT. In generating its own ever-evolving polyglot tongue and by incessantly recycling its own past, rap is ten times more opaque (and transparent) than Andrews’s writing could ever hope to be, and mimics to a tee — Andrews’s stated goal — the present condition with an aggressiveness and excessiveness that bears witness to the violence of our time, the grandiosity of our decay, for one thing. The avant-garde desire for an opaque language has its roots in the primitivism of early modernism and can be spotted at work in Andrews’s exoticization and attempted eroticization of language. Whereas the Futurists waxed poetic about the machine, Andrews drools on about the text and, like the Futurists, pushes for transcendence — the liberation of language from everyday speech. The genius of rap — a chorus of looped sound and speech, simultaneously frenetic and casual — is that it makes showing how hard life is today look effortless (how’s that for dialectics, Theorydoor?) and finds transcendence in the acceptance of the impossibility of transcendence. In other words, rap is totally honest about its motives, laudatory or not — it’s no surprise that the slain prince of 90s hardcore rap (Tupac Shakur) called himself Makaveli — while the poetry world is structured by a basic denial of economy. As Bourdieu consistently points out, there are “economic conditions for the [apparent] indifference to economy” as well as for the valorization of technique, the sacralization of the struggle with form which includes the privilege to relinquish the need to be understood, otherwise known as “sense.” To quote again from Bourdieu: “Literature, paradoxically, becomes the core from which all centering is denounced [as “absence” becomes the new center], the truth by which all truth may be deconstructed.” The practice of poetry as “politics” claimed by the language poets has, for some time now, functioned as another form of disinterestedness and academic exercise, all the more effective for its ability to pass as exactly the opposite — socially progressive art. A global youth culture which spread faster than the rhizome could be theorized by Deleuze and Guattari — whose “body without organs” is Descartes’ Ego, the sequel — hip-hop, as a serially-produced collective practice which allows black youth to chronicle their lives while giving vent to their anonymity (not unlike the once-ignored Reznikoff did in Testimony), hope and rage, puts Andrews’s avant-garde to shame. Yeah, he’s better than Mary Oliver but how much better? Andrews is to real revolutionary socialism what Lacan is to real Freudian psychoanalysis. He’s a bullshitter whose artistic retardedness would be transparent if it weren’t for the clanking armor of his megasutured grad school bark: “The key is to stop treating sound as if it were a natural phenomenon, to let the social interrupt all ubiquitous immediacy (of emptier — or full because formalized — sounds). After all, any mechanically total aesthetic organization will be contaminated by social significance, some of which adheres to the differentials of sound and gives them a decodable outward vocation — (something akin to presence). The subsumptions of structure will be a dilution, counteracting the social vectors of individual language cells” (82, his italics)...and it don’t stop. Take this vector and shove it up your pitiful modernity, Mr. Praxis.

I don’t have much to say about Marjorie Perloff’s mostly solid essay, “After Free Verse: The New Nonlinear Poetries,” except to point out that the nonlinear thing isn’t new any more. Her description of the experimental poetry to come seems to be a language poetry/modernism repeat but with a more international and feminine flavor. I don’t have much to say about Susan Howe’s family history tale, “Ether Either,” either, except to ask why the hell is it in this anthology? Johanna Drucker’s “Visual Performance of the Poetic Text” has a lot of nice pictures of the typographically experimental work of the Futurists, Dadaists, Concretists, etc., all of which make Bruce Andrews’s efforts look like PLAID GAS MASKS. Drucker’s comment on the Lettrist Isidore Isou could also apply to Andrews: “Isou succeeded in his goal of pulverizing language, in destroying its capacity for communication or even expression, but the result is merely a termination rather than a point of departure for any further investigation of visual performativity” (153). Steve McCaffrey’s “Voice in Extremis” can’t get enough of technocratic lit crit slang: “Falling under the primary conceptual governance of expenditure rather than orality, voice in these occasions — no longer a guarantee of a conscious self — precipitates a maximum rupture in any signifying system. Replacing the traditional author is A COMPLEX MACHINIC ASSEMBLAGE [COMMUNITY?] generating performances that take the form of pulsional escapes from meaning and being, their release effected by a community [yessir] of agents/‘poets’ functioning as a complex interrelation of transistors” (169). As Wilde said, “to be really modern one should have no soul” and I would be hard pressed to find any evidence of one in McCaffrey’s asylum of effects. This intoxication with the code is not surprising given the progression of the avant-garde literary field towards total autonomy, the most autonomous field being that of science. Hence, the psuedo-scientific rhetoric. We also get much talk on the great travesty, the original sin, the fall of man that is the illusion of presence — presence invented the atom bomb don’t you know — as in McCaffrey’s footnote on Zukofsky’s heroic disliking of the poetry reading, a naughty ontological device which fosters illusions of presence and promotes wife-beating “via a purportedly essential corporeal connection to a written text sufficient to restore the author to her work in a fetishized reunification” (174). The Iron Bedsheet that separates authors from their writing must be defended to the death, my bedbugs. Aesthetic impurity is the big danger here, requiring a full dose of irony to maintain the necessary distance between signifier and signified, sign and object. This langpo hatred and fear of personality, beauty and “authorial presence” — similar to their secret hatred for language concealed in the formal value of slippage, the slide between words over their material intransigence — is so incredibly hypocritical, another example of damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t psychological warfare. When a writer refuses authority in the form of group identification, as John Taggart does, he is scolded by who else but Ron Silliman. In other words, one must announce one’s presence (by announcing one’s rejection of presence) but not use it. I ain’t got much to say about Dennis Tedlock’s “TOWARD A POETICS OF POLYGAMY IN TRANSYLVANIA” except to quote another priceless sentence that is going to overthrow all our monologocentric after-dinner mints: “Writing, like speaking, is a performance” (178). Bob Perelman’s “Speech Effects: The Talk as a Genre” only inspires me to quote his sudden light-shedding argument that “after all, commodities do provide enjoyment to the receiver” (200). What world do these guys live in? Peter Quartermain in “Sound Reading” can’t help but hit us over the head with this revolutionary step on the moon of logic that we’ve all been starving for: “If, as Charles Bernstein suggested in a slightly different context, a ‘poetic reading can be given to any piece of writing’ (his emphasis), then, plainly, so can an unpoetic” (217, Quartermain’s italics). Jed Rasula’s decent essay, “Understanding the Sound of Not Understanding,” relies a bit too much on the old notion of defamiliarization — a strategy that consequently needs to be defamiliarized — as the basis of aesthetic experience: “To submit to the material current of unfamiliarity in a text (which includes the oral sounding) is to apprehend the animation that is poetry” (256). Well, the Wall St. Journal is unfamiliar to me, does that make it poetry? Please, Lord, no.

Peter Middleton in “The Contemporary Poetry Reading” attempts to found the totally unnecessary epistemology of poetry readings. Here we go again: “Audience and poet collaborate in the performance of the poem. The audience is not simply a collection of autonomous individuals whose auditions of the poem are entirely independent. During performance the audience is formed by the event, and creates an intersubjective network, which can then become an element in the poem itself” (291). WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH OUR LIVES, PETE? Lorenzo Thomas’s essay, “Neon Griot: The Functional Role of Poetry Readings in the Black Arts Movement” provides a detailed look at some of the history of African-American poetry as well as the “direct line between the Beat poets and the Black Arts Movement,” a fragile line straddled by such poets as Leroi Baraka and Bob Kaufman. Amiri Jones’s poetry, as Thomas points out, combines “intensely personal lyrics and incisively political comment” (310-311). Unlike the language poets, the “Black Arts activists understood that ‘art definitely is not a revolution’” (311), but were aware that art had a role to play in the transformation of consciousness, the articulation of collective and personal needs and desires, and so on. Maria Damon’s lengthy-titled essay is the only one in the book that really deals with the slam phenomenon. She argues that the “[t]he world of poetry slams and open-mike readings, while not directly politically interventionist, perhaps, creates a public sphere that is healthily contestatory” (327). She questions, however, this public sphere in a paraphrase of a Walter Benjamin quote: “populist/democratic venues are mere palliatives whose flamboyance and surface-level engagement threaten to divert us from the fact that most of the lives celebrated in this work (working-class, marginal, ethnically other, etc) are getting harder and harder, even while it becomes trendier and trendier to celebrate them. Far from pointing beyond themselves toward activism for just economic or social solutions, these expressions’ existence is mistaken for a meaningful solution in and of itself” (327). Many slam poems that I heard were vocally critical of this slammitation, this easy, declamatory gesturing towards a politics that is done for an aesthetic effect. Damon quotes Bernstein: “‘The very oldtime iambic beat of rap and much slam poetry [is] inflected with a regularity that ... has the same problem as the most hidebound metrical poetry that some would argue ... is antithetical to poetic music’” (330). Damon presents her own criticism of this generalization but I’d respond to it by pointing out that in both the rap song and the slam poem FREE VERSE AND METRICAL FORM MIX FREELY. I doubt that metrics based on the foot as a unit of stress could even be transposed onto rap lyrics at all. Furthermore, any genre will have its regularity that separates it from other genres, and its best practitioners are going to be those artists, duh, that handle their genre’s form in the most creative ways. Most rap, like most poetry being written nowadays, isn’t worth listening to, because the majority of it is so numbingly the same, but that isn’t grounds for the dismissal of a whole art form. Of poetry’s outpost in the popular culture she accurately says: “it is a mock competition that structures and theatricalizes a noncompetitive, free-for-allish open reading into a combination of the gong show and Olympic gymnastic competitions” (333) and, I should add, TV commercials, beauty pageants, soap opera dialogues, basketball court trash talking, Sunday pulpit gospelizng, and pro wrestling chest-beating oratory. Slams “were purposefully structured to counteract aggressively the atomized and apathetic ambience that infected the grass-roots poetry scene. They marshal audience participation, ensuring the poets that there will be an audience right through to the end” ... (333). Moreover, the scoring process at a slam answers our desire for instantaneous judgment, a democratic vote minus the bureaucratic interference, an immediate computable reaction that cuts through the contemplative process normally determinative of an artwork’s value and significance. The attraction of a slam is one of instant reception and consumption, not the usual trickle-down process at the hand of the guardians of the canon, whose MFA farm system is no more an essentially virtuous institution than the slam.

Damon is therefore dead-on to show the hypocrisy of many traditionalists who dismiss the slam for its merging of poetry and sport and yet operate in the milieu of “the arguably more cutthroat competition for publication opportunities, admission to M.F.A. programs, and university teaching positions that poisons the mainstream ‘creative writing’ community” (334). In African-American culture, competition is an integral part of artistic production: “strongly worded public disagreement, battles of wit and argumentation, are purposefully spectacular, on display as opportunities for community formation, education, entertainment, intellectual and artistic expression” (334). The contemporary embracing of dissident and dissonant public performance has resulted in the re-emergence “of a dynamic insistence on presence itself, and the waning hegemony of the written as mediator for the Great Unknowable that reveals Itself only in private, one-on-one séances” (336). This sentence in particular struck home because poetry, from the beginning, was for me an experience of being alone with words, of solitude not sociality. IT WAS THE ONLY SOLITUDE I HAD. I went to poetry after the rest of the world went to sleep in order to confront in silence the things that simultaneously bound me to the world and separated me from it. A poem was a space ship that orbited the world, was pulled by its gravity, but never landed anywhere. One of the unrecognized strengths of poetry is its ability to be a vehicle for both individual and collective vision beyond the confines of the hermetic or populist, to create room for asocial or parasocial exploration and movement while tethered to language — that which is irreducibly public and social. Compared to the other arts like theater, film, dance, music, painting, photography, sculpture and professional wrestling which require gallery space, studio space, and a set or stage, the poet doesn’t need that much and definitely doesn’t need to be part of a community that produces so much anal talk about the idea of, and need for, community. Time is the poet’s studio and stage and playground. Again, Spicer comes to mind as an example of a poet who understood the advantages of invisibility and so valued the poem as a solitary “ceremony of the real” through which he would attempt to remove himself from language and also as a storm erupting inside the real’s social atmosphere. These were my thoughts when, in perfect Spicerean fashion, this private séance of reveries at the Slammotel was abruptly terminated by a spook, or ‘knock at the door’ as its called. The door opened and into the living room walked not landlords with rocks in their coat pockets but something far, far worse: campers. Now Laura had initially told me that none of her roommates or their friends would be staying at the apartment while I was there. She was mistaken. One of the roommates, let’s call her Moose, was working as a camp counselor in Wisconsin over the summer and, as I would learn, had been regularly returning to Evanston for the weekend and bringing some of the camp kids along with her. I watched in petrified amazement as THE WOODCHUCKS FILED IN ONE BY ONE WITH THEIR GEAR AND WENT TO WORK TERRAFORMING MY SLAMMONASTERY INTO A SCHMORES LAB. Acting solely on instinct I reached for my notebook and backpack, told the platoon of Schmores dealers and Moose that I had to slam real bad, and tiptoed out the back door.

At the Subterranean I came to with the help of semi-final slam salts. Oakland, Austin, and Dallas had each survived the early rounds and now it was slam or die slamming. Out of the 18 teams left, the four with the highest scores tonight would move onto the final bout tomorrow. Oakland’s Paxil-hatin’ Jamie Kennedy was the first out of the starting gates. He was enraged by the legal posting of the Ten Commandments in public places, calling them the “Ten Goddamits” (not as clever, however, as Wilde calling them the “twenty commandments” or any number of other numbers). He shouted, “Judas was a redhead, I must be a descendant” and then I think fell off the stage. Austin’s Phil West was recoiling from a bad shopping experience, something about Lucky Charms and a “world where Ed McMahon is actually something you want on your doorstep.” Some line about “returning those 8 seconds to the vortex” sounded pretty neat. Jason Carney of Dallas spake a poem in a thunderous yet vulnerable preacher voice that was the real deal. He said he was “gonna build a hive from vibrations of jazz” and “construct [his] hive [or home] from the simplicity from which [he] came.” He shouted “I am this lifetime” and yet “I’m a man who doesn’t know HOW TO LOVE THIS LIFETIME.” Wanting “a religion of forgiveness,” he said he “[prayed] for truth.” Vicky Henderson stepped up to the plate for Austin and delivered a critical poem on the use of the word “nigga” by her brothaz and sistaz. She said “we can create positive change,” mentioning Langston Hughes’s “a dream deferred.” I thought she quoted from a Hughes poem but now I think these lines were hers: “the shade of the dogwood tree / where the souls of black men / swing forever free.” This is a good example of a pep talk poem. Dallas did a team piece, a kind of sex firecracker-political commentary poem on the IRS and the Texas Militia and international prostitution all rolled into one: “fucking for the Yankee daughter dollar.” Like their last team piece I think this one was just done to get high scores from the heterosexual male and/or lesbian judges. Sonya Whittle from Oakland screamed “SHIT AIN’T CHANGED BUT THE ADDRESS!” She took aim at cops and hegemonies that are “always player-hatin’.” “This is some important stuff,” she explained, “enough is not enough / everyday ain’t no Houdini / who dun it.” She, like a few other slammers, ended her poem with the word “peace” which is, I conject, Slamerican for “finis.” Dallas pulled no punches and began the second round with another friggin’ sex group piece. “I have loved you into me,” crooned one of the girls. “The lie of heaven betrays me,” wept the other. I have something in my notes about a “python” and a “prehistoric frame of reference” but I don’t want to speculate on their connection. Oakland’s Shawn Taylor read at the top of his voice a furious speech about living in the belly of the beast and finding refuge in words. “Forgive me if I sound like soundbites or sometimes use words out of context,” he said, revealing that “[his] nightmares led to the alphabet but the alphabet led to freedom.” God wasn’t there for him so he “usurped his ass and took his place.” He ended the poem with the line, “26 letters are all I have and I’m going to use every last one!” Austin performed a team piece on the subject of cultural decline: “where are the giants that once walked the Earth?” they asked, calling upon the forces of Shakespeare and Salinger to save them from Milli Vanilli and Bon Jovi. Unfortunately, their plea echoed more with the artistry of the latter than the former. Oakland’s Roxanne Hanna-Ware read a poem about a hustling woman who “ain’t nobody’s wife” which was punctuated by the refrain “misery has company.” Like Sonia she ended with a declaration of “peace.” Karyna McGlynn from Austin read a funny poem about having a fetish for pudgy artistic men: “you make your own hats / you wear Swedish sandals / you might be wearing make-up / just sit on your lumpy ass, baby / you’re a fat artist, a balding Buddhist / put on your speedo.” And, of course, Jean Weatherly of Dallas just had to end the bout with ONE MORE PURRING FIRECRACKER: “he said I smelled like catfish / with a hint of honeysuckle / I didn’t know a Chinese man could be so country / macaroni and powdered milk / everything was so erotic.” Oakland advanced with a score of 114.8 to Austin’s 113.7 and Dallas’s 111.

I bolted for The Note to catch one of the other semi-final bouts. It looked even more packed than it had on Wednesday night. I hovered around the side of the stage near the entrance where the teams — The Nuyoricans, Kalamazoo, MI, and NYC/Union Square — were hanging out and rubbing their opponents’ shoulders, while some team members were pacing, getting psyched up to go on stage. I made futile attempts at note-taking as people were pushing their way in and out of the club and cameramen were squirming around for a better shot. Some guy from Kalamazoo read a Burroughs-esque ode to Levittown: “and thanks for the minimalls, the parking garages, the Cineplexes” for providing a modicum of challenge and danger. Union Square’s Roger Bonair-Agard described his Trinidadian childhood and his emigration to New York, finishing his poem with a huffy “A is for Africa, B is for Black, C is for Culture and that’s where the fuck I’m at!” Chill out, brotha, please. Two guys from Kalamazoo read typical slam poems: an elegy to a jazz musician who died young and a slammanifesto in which the slamster yelled “I’m a person, too!” Staceyann Chin of Union Sqaure (and native of Jamaica) performed a work that I thought was definitely up there with the poems by Mali, Bain, and Green. She twisted her arms around the microphone and lifted her legs in the air as she slammed slamness, saying she wanted “to write something honest and real, not one of those poems by people who think they’re hot shit with CDs to sell.” “I don’t want to be at a fucking slam,” she cursed, “I want to write a poem with a sky not painted boring blue but the deepest red,” and so on until her last line: “I want to write a poem so honest” ... “it slams.” This seemed to catch everyone off guard as she whispered it while walking away from the mike. It worked, but again without a copy of the poem I can’t do it much justice. All of the Nuyorican poets seemed to blend into one MC. One of them kept on repeating the line “I’m on some other shit!” and touched the truth with this line: “YOU DON’T REBEL TO WRITE, YOU WRITE TO REBEL.” Another Nuyorican had a lot to say, telling us of all the black writers he’s read, how “Benjamin Franklin is the President,” and how we live in a class system whose rulers just happen to be white. He railed against the “emasculated black men” of his father’s generation and announced “I got my MBA” while “you still living at home with your parents.” “Fidel Castro got his Phd. in Economics” he informed us and warned us that “YOU REVOLUTIONARIES ARE GONNA BE THE NEXT JANITORS!” I thought this invective was personally directed at me and so I resolved that I would prove MC MBA wrong by becoming that revolutionary custodial worker who will write “Filthy Shitters Of The Global Potty Unite!” on the walls of bathroom stalls. The poem displayed a strange logic: “fuck revolution, I’m the revolution; I know what’s up, shut up if you can’t pay the bills or defend yourself.” This is exactly the kind of poem that Meliza Banares’s “This poem is not about...” poem was criticizing. Despite its astuteness, the Nuyorican’s performance revealed how “revolutionary” remains popular only as an identity, not as an act. It also exemplified the self-empowerment/debasement dialectic whereby slamsters can declare themselves the center of the world, only if they have the certificate of marginalization to prove it. A paranoid performance by a last Kalamazoo slamster seemed to live up to the Nuyorican’s prophecy. “This is the peak of my career,” he conceded. At least he encouraged people to laugh. As it would turn out, Union Square won this match though the members of the Nuyorican DEBATE N’ DESTROY team were so pumped up or strung out on slammerformance-enhancing drugs, that I thought they had been crowned CHAMPIONS OF EVERYTHING. I lingered on in anticipation of the individual semi-finals which were on the schedule as taking place after this bout. But I was, of course, foiled again by the Foucauldian calendar and so returned to the Slamhaus to find a checkerboard of sleeping bags arranged on the living room floor. Upon them lay THE BRIGHT AND SHINY, SEXUALLY AMBIGUOUS GROUND HOGS. They were watching The Wedding Singer and, like a gang of out-of-season carolers that wouldn’t leave, emitted devilish cackles as bits of Schmores cud flew out of their gaping mouths. I could have sworn they were also working on a puzzle.


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