Poetry … Slam!

Posted: April 5, 2018 in Blog
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Poetry Slam

When I was in my early twenties, I lived in Austin, and I wrote a lot of poetry. I wrote a lot in general, much more so than I do now. It felt like this beastly urge that just had to get out. The creative push has not left me, but it is less aggressive.

The poems I wrote were generally dark, provocative, and strange. I did not shy from graphic content, and really, I think I fancied them as lyrics to some industrial rock songs. I wrote of things that bothered me, that lurked in deep recesses of my contemplation, and I wanted to share them.

There was a thriving live poetry scene in Austin at the time. I have no idea what it’s like now as I have not lived there in twenty or so years, but you could find poetry readings happening nearly every night of the week back then. There was a poetry ‘slam’ coming, one of many, and the grand champion would actually get to read their work at Lollapalooza. This was big stuff.

I really didn’t know what poetry slams were. I had this idea that they were intended to be somewhat intentional and heavy trading of blows between poets by reading things potentially controversial. Maybe some are, but this one was not. This one was just like the others I came to know – people took turns getting up on a stage and reading their poem aloud.

I had some theater and public speaking training, but it had been a long time. I also wasn’t entirely sure how to present my poem. The one I had chosen was somewhat long and filled to the brim with graphic content. It basically was one of many I wrote that metaphorically dug at the controlling aspects of society and organized religion via the telling of a violent and pornographic mass.

We were timed. They had selected some random girl to keep the watch, and then she’d signal some buzzer when we were done. I knew how long we would get, and I had practiced and even pruned my poem a bit. I was just at the maximum allowable, and I knew it. I got up there, and I began reading this contentious content in a monotone voice. I had chosen this method of delivery for two reasons. One, I felt it would add a creepy, discomfiting underscore to the subject matter, and two, I was very rusty in my public speaking.

The buzzer went off a couple of lines before I was able to finish. I figured I had taken too long in my delivery. It took me a moment or two, but I also finally noticed the reaction spreading through the small crowd. My poem had set off something of a volatile response. I walked to the bar, taking a seat and making ready to order a drink, and I looked back on the gathering to see what else was happening.

I had not gone up first, but no one else had elicited this type of response. People were chattering, some arguing. The judges, comprised of the owner of the place and some other somewhat randomly appointed people, were listening and then participating. I heard someone say the timekeeper had rung me out too early. This was getting more interesting, and I watched, passively.

The voices became louder, people arguing about the content of my poem, others saying there were no rules against that sort of thing, freedom of speech on all sides, etc., etc. I am not sure how this happened, but the girl doing the timekeeping was one of the most vocal against me. Someone said something about my being brave enough to get up in front of everyone and speak, so if she had so much to say, she needed to get up on stage. She did.

I, of course, don’t remember her exact words, but it was something like this –

She got up there, looking awkward to be in this position. “I don’t know. I didn’t like it. It felt bad against women, and it made me think of having a yeast infection.” Then she babbled and mumbled some more with people challenging her, and she gave another ‘I don’t know’, and she flipped up her skirt and flashed us all her panties.

This blew my mind.

Yes, there were several bad things in my poem that happened to women. There were also bad things that transpired against men. And yet, she punctuated her argument by giving a cheap panty-flash to the audience. This seemed to undercut anything she might be saying in defense of women. My poem was not meant to be anti-female, and I knew that. I just observed, very curious.

My girlfriend at the time (who I would eventually marry, then divorce, but that is an entirely different story) felt compelled to get up and defend me. I am proud that she did. Her response was much more articulate and focused, though she was wrong when she declared why I had written that poem.

I said nothing throughout all of this, and funnily enough, no one asked me anything. The bartender looked at me during it and gave me a supporting comment about good poetry being controversial. Then the judges gave their scores. I received a perfect ten from the owner of the place, and a flat zero from another. No one else the entire night received anything so extreme on either end of the scale.

Needless to say, I did not win, but it was a very interesting, eye-opening experience for me.

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