Nov 15, 2011

TREND| Slam Poetry

The 90’s saw something weird and rare in the grand-scape of the American underground, a resurgence of poetry.  I should know I was a victim of it.  Along with this new interest came movies chronicling the lives of poets past and present strangely played by the same actor.  As well as new anthologies announcing the new dirtier life of the free verse poet howling the new songs of Whitman’s angry whiskey soaked children still praising the grass so long steam rolled over by asphalt, pleading “rose still!”  Among these new voices to immerge dragging themselves through the negro streets was Slam. 

It might seem strange to think of poetry as applicable to the visual arts, but having seen poets listed before in this blog and having woven my life around the 2-D, the 3-D, broken the 4th wall and found the infinite in the 5th I will dispense with anymore explanations and cut right to the nut as it were on this Sabbath. 

Slam poetry is visual and vocal performance art employing elements of stage acting, dance, movement, singing, and presences, but none of these things can act to overpower the message and poetics of the poem itself they may only act to enhance the presentation of the work but never be the work itself.  Slam is a competitive form of poetry featuring usually 3 rounds and judged by members of the audience picked at random.  The first slam was started in Chicago by Marc Smith in 1984 and has since grown to have over 80 certified national slam teams across the United States. 

Saul Williams is perhaps the United States best know slam poet.  His work is varied dealing with issues of life, race, class, power, politics, basically the gamut of the human animal in relation to the world.  This ethos is exemplified in the poem Coded Language, in which Saul Williams calls for us to awaked and recalibrate our thinking to the fine tuning of our selves: 

We claim the present as the pre-sent, as the hereafter.
We are unraveling our navels so that we may ingest the sun.
We are not afraid of the darkness, we trust that the moon shall guide us.
We are determining the future at this very moment.
We now know that the heart is the philosophers' stone
Our music is our alchemy

His use of slam is to say “Yes, we are awake! And the future is ours!”  

today we are determined to be the channelers of these changing frequencies
into songs, paintings, writings, dance, drama, photography, carpentry,
crafts, love, and love.
We enlist every instrument: Acoustic, electronic.
Every so-called race, gender, and sexual preference.
Every per-son as beings of sound to acknowledge their responsibility to
uplift the consciousness of the entire fucking World.

He enlists revolutionary tones, words and thought like an angry hippy on the final angst with the first call to wake up and employ your art as you define it to re-imagine your world for the better and take control of consciousness for the effort of letting go.

Saul Williams does not use a lot of humor in his writing he’s rather serious but never to a brow beating fault.  His poetry makes me want to howl from the tallest cliff face I can find and paint my face with mud in the canopies of my reality and laugh out loud with love while listening to sonic youth and truly knowing what that means.

On the other side of that equation I find Ernie Cline.  Ernie Cline is a local Austin Based slam poet of a whole other kind.  For one thing he’s very funny.  His works include the movie Fanboys and the book Ready Player One both available at Book People in Austin, TX.  In the poem Nerd Porn Auteur he describes his problems with and his solution to contemporary pornography. 

Adult films are populated with these collagen-injected
liposuctioned women
Many of whom have resorted to surgery and self-mutilation
in an attempt to look the way they have been told to look.

These aren't real women. They're objects.
And these movies aren't erotic. They're pathetic.
These vacuum-headed fuck bunnies don't turn me on.
They disgust me.
And it's not that I'm against pornography.
I mean, I'm a guy. And guys need porn.
"Like a preacher needs pain, like a needle needs a vein,"
Guys need porn.

But I don't wanna watch this misogynist he-man woman-hater porn.
I want porno movies that are made with guys like me in mind:
Guys who know that the sexiest thing in the world
is a woman who is smarter than you are.

His style continues to flow with a stream of consciousness meditation presentation and ending in a job offer Cline delivers a social commentary on the sad current affair of porn and what he sees as legitimate beauty.  Like Saul Williams Cline is all inclusive and does not limit himself to a hetero-normative reading of the world stating:

And I'm not just talking about straight porn. Oh no.
There should be fuck films for my nerd brethren
of all sexual orientations.
Gay nerd porn flicks with titles like "Dungeons and Drag-queens."

Through his clear and precise use of the vulgar in language he makes clear his message and point of a higher consciousness, smart is beautiful, the you of you is better than the you of them, but you better know the name of Luke Skywalker’s home planet for good job security. 

Christopher Lee runs both serious poetics as well as humor in his poem Sacrificing.  As an Austin slam poet Christopher (yes I know him) has appeared at the national poetry slam competions.  He makes you laugh about the duality within him and calls into question the nature of being a biracial gay man in the United States approaching the audience with a level of seriousness only masked by his humorous delivery playing with racial and sexual stereo-types:

No side will let go of what anyone has done before
My gay side is prochoice
My straight side is prolife
We are all surprised
Thinking is not against the law

Throughout his poem he drops nail biting jokes masking harsh truths regarding marriage, identity, sex and gender, and peoples relationships to each other.  However he differs strongly from both Saul Williams and Ernie Cline.  Where they both had clear resolution to the problems they see in the world, calling for spiritual and consciousness realignment or new porn star auditions based on one’s ability to play chess, Christopher Lee leaves the door open to interpretation with more questions than answers:

If the people of this world
Can not get along
No one will say
I did not fucking try

In this way he asks the audience to look inside themselves at their own contradictions and see what side of the proverbial line they fall or straddle as the case maybe.

This is just a small slice of the great collide-scope of slam poetry and poetry and the art universe.  The voices are as varied as skin tone in the United States with words and song and gesture running up and down the grey scale like Beethoven on the piano.  A lot of slam is social and political commentary, but it doesn’t have to be.  Poetry like any art can be about anything or nothing.  To me the real art of it or anything is to find the pulse of America, feel it like a Ringo Starr beat and find the John and Paul in you to lay texture and vibrant clarity down.  Because it’s not what medium you use but that you use one.  Because that is airwolf.

- Miguel Garcia


  1. ContributorNov 15, 2011 02:16 PM
    By writing in this style, this grand top of the mountain metaphorical use of style without punctuation and stream of consciousness "my god I just blew my mind with my words" how will I ever get down from here is what Hendrix would that's the real beat of the street, Hendrix he my fingers keep typing I find myself wondering what the hell I'm even saying but at least I've got a pulse on the railroad of America, you here me!

    Calm the praise and slay the slam and maybe your blog will not seem so super high...on life!

    ---Jonathan Peters
  2. ContributorNov 15, 2011 04:51 PM
    "slay the slam"... what does that even mean?

    miguel garcia
  3. ContributorNov 15, 2011 06:24 PM
    I'm too high for this.

    - Brenden Freedman
  4. ContributorNov 15, 2011 07:00 PM
    Exactly, Miguel. Exactly.
    --Jonathan Peters
  5. ContributorNov 16, 2011 09:42 AM
    jonathan, i don't understand, your comments seem more like direct attacks on me then on what i wrote. you don't seem to be so much critical of my critic (or lack there of) but just down about syntax with maybe a negative opinion of slam in general.
    i addressed what the artist say and how they say it. i discuss their similarites and their differances, if you want me to just put them down or be harsh and unforgiving about their medium ("slay the slam") for the simple sake of doing that, i will not. i like what saul williams says, i like what ernie cline says, i like what chistopher lee says, i did not intend that, but that's how it worked out. if you don't like that, to bad.

    if you would like to clarify your position, please do.

  6. ContributorNov 16, 2011 10:07 PM
    johnathan, "here" is spelled "hear" in this case. a poet should learn proper spelling. just saying for critiques.

    Charlie Artful
  7. ContributorNov 21, 2011 07:13 PM
    Charlie Artful, thanks for correcting my spelling. With your guidance, I have learned the difference between "here" and "hear". Thanks again.

    Miguel, I understand that I came across as attacking you. And I apologize if you felt that way. Actually, I was attacking Slam Poetry. I was critiquing Slam by simply making fun of it. I just wrote a paragraph of gibberish (and misspelled words...thanks for helping prove my point, Charlie!) without any thought as to what I was saying.
    I don't find a lot of value in stream of consciousness poetry. By this I don't mean that the art form doesn't have value; rather, I find it to be romanticized and just kind of silly. It is a personal dislike of the art form. I was attempting to show that I could mimic the art form and at the same time criticize it without really trying too hard.
    If it's any consolation, at least I read and commented on your blog...which is more than what many people in our class do.
    I hope this gives you some peace.
  8. ContributorNov 23, 2011 08:41 PM
    that's really very little consolation. how is that consolation? you explain that you don't know what you're talking about and that you are thoughtless, but at least you said something and i'm supposed to feel consoled? you should be a rape victims consoler, you should start every victim interview with, "hey, at least someone had your fugly ass, am i right?"
    slam poetry is not stream of consciousness poetry, it's highly thought out, well modeled, heavily vetted and deeply scrutinized down to the least syllable. if it comes off as stream of consciousness it’s only because that’s how good the poets are at playing that sleight of hand. it was the beats who worked heavily in stream of consciousness poetry and did not believe in editing. that you don’t know the difference only shows that you don’t know what your attacking in the first place. and you thinking i should find consolation in your vapid and void comments while then trying to pass the buck on the rest of the class only shows that your ego is as big as jupiter while being made of as much substance as pluto. so no, i find no consolation in your comments.
    but thanks for playing, miguel.
  9. ContributorNov 29, 2011 04:33 PM
    I do apologize. I was being ignorant and arrogant. Let us move on.
  10. ContributorDec 2, 2011 02:45 PM
    /end hostility


    You said you don't care for stream of consciousness poetry, which I would classify mostly as modernist literature (Joyce, Eliot, etc.)

    I'm curious to know, what do you think about modernism in visual arts? Things like dada, and some non-objective abstraction -- where stream of consciousness, and fragmentation both seem to exist in the work.

    -Brenden Freedman