For the first time ever, I watched a poetry slam as a mere spectator. No hosting, no judging, no timekeeping, no performing, just watching. The show was a success because a majority of the audience had a good time and was engaged with the show. I however did not enjoy myself. In fact, it was very painful to listen to all of it.
Running a slam for ten years trains your ears to discern what is real and what is smoke and mirrors. Often, I found myself saying things like “references to 40 acres and a mule are so 1996” and “less Buddy, more Anis”. I applauded the judges for giving low scores. I booed the judges for giving high scores to poems that I felt didn’t deserve those high scores because while the message sounded passionate, I didn’t feel anything except “boring” and “frustrated” and “disappointed”.
It is easy to hate, this is true. I spent ten years pushing the Orlando scene to do better, to be better, and in that time the slam went from being almost last place to a respected scene known for its writing nationally. Really good talent emerged from it. However, I don’t see anyone taking my old role of pushing poets to the brink, forcing them to be better. On the other hand, true artists should push themselves to be better because they want to be better. I hope the latter is true otherwise, poetry in Orlando will remain segregated in the various open mics, where everyone stays in the same room and no one migrates to other spots to cut their teeth. The only good open mic in Orlando is Speakeasy and that’s because you have people doing interesting things in the room and I love going each and every month because of the consistent, wonderful surprises.
There is the option of leading by example, jumping back into the fray and slamming but I don’t see the point in doing that. Right now, I’m chasing Ernie Cline, but in my own way.
Speaking of slam and Ernie Cline – seriously, poets currently in slam, he is probably one of the biggest non-champions of all time with Ready Player One and Fanboys. He’s proof that when you don’t make slam your be-all, end-all, you can get a lot accomplished. I’m being a cheap bastard and waiting for the paperback, but I am proud to say I knew him when he beat me by a point in Chicago during my first ever poetry slam in 2001.
I’m a supporter of folks who believe in doing cool shit and making a difference in their own way, and L.R. Dalby is one of those fine folks. Pipe Dream Publishing is looking for some good writing. Somehow, they think my writing is good and accepted “Fold” recently. This piece is the basis of the novella I’m working on. I remember growing up my stepfather watching Westerns while napping and how much I fucking hated Westerns and here I am writing one. You should check out Pipe Dream and then submit your writing (poetry/fiction) to them. L.R. will thank you in her special way.
My latest sex column is up on Specter Magazine, which you can read here.