I’ve had a nasty prejudice against Poetry Slams ever since I led the first Canadian team to the first National Poetry Slam in San Francisco in 1992. That event was so so unsatisfying in so many ways – so self-indulgent and self-satisfied and poetically unadventurous – that it led my poetic teammates (Kedrick James and Alex Ferguson) and I to publish an instant broadside called Like Lambs to the Slammer. From that point on I felt that Poetry Slams were more or less well-intentioned as a gimmick to interest people in poetry, but that they represented a very stunted and cliquish poetic universe.
But I had been hearing about how Ottawa – where I live – has a killer Slam Poetry scene for a while, so last year I decided to check it out. And lo and behold it was a killer scene! It was fun, friendly and filled with young poets whose skills varied from decent to superb. Each show was also packed with lots of vocal fans. It was a very diverse scene, with lots of women, lots of people of various cultures and colours, and although the poetry still tended to be somewhat homogeneous, there were at least occasional experiments, which was encouraging. Overall I was impressed. It was a definitely a very healthy and positive poetry scene.
So this year – in fact starting tonight – I return as a participant in the Capital Slam. No doubt twice as old as many of the other poetic slammers. And hopefully at least twice as wise. But we shall see. I have never thought that the whole scoring thing was deserving of any respect, but if I’m playing their game I have to play their rules, and since I am a competitive person I am looking to win. Not just tonight but the whole national smashional whatever.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Meanwhile here’s a video of a rant/poem I dropped at one of last year’s slams during the open mic session. It’s from April 2011 and although some things have changed – the situation in Libya for example – others, like Obama’s disastrous lack of leadership, have not.