17 June 2008

Air & Page

The air poets are getting restless. They expel their poems into the air, and the poems dissipate instantly. The air poets get no respect.

The page poets are dinosaurs, pulling their tired carcasses across the uncaring landscape.

Putting a poem on a page doesn't make it a good poem. Shouting a poem at an audience doesn't make it a good poem. Writing or shouting a poem from the heart doesn't make it a good poem. Pontificating makes for bad poetry. Facile rhymes make for bad poetry. Most of what is put on the page is bad poetry.

Anyway, a reporter from something called The Town Crier wanted to interview me a few weeks back for an article she was doing on air poetry (she calls it "spoken word" — as if one might speak something other than a word). I told her I would only be interviewed in writing. She sent me a list of questions. I sent her my answers. The article was published. Only my "outrageous" comments were used. But here's the entire exchange:

What do you think of spoken word/slam poetry?

I think most poetry is awful, and I think a much higher proportion of spoken word/slam poetry isn't good poetry. Mostly I find the work simplistic, badly rhymed, cliché-ridden, didactic and devoid of imagery. I find the performances gushing with ego and self-righteousness. I find the performances often aggressive and competitive.

You know, I guess some people like it, so I'm glad they have something they like. But with maybe one or two exceptions, I can't stand the stuff. And I'm sure most of its practitioners have no interest in my work, either.

Do you feel/believe it is a legitimate art form — on par with traditional forms of poetry?

Sure, it's an art form. Or it's something. But it's not poetry. Just as song lyrics are not poetry. Is it a form "on par" with poetry? I prefer the potential of poetry as a form.

Are you involved in Toronto's spoken word scene? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Nope. I guess I'm not involved because I'm not a spoken worder. Why would I be involved? I also don't want to be involved in basketball, poker, and wine-tasting.

Where do you see the scene in the future?

I don't think much about its future.

I spoke with David Silverberg, founder of Toronto Poetry Slam and editor of Mic Check, a new anthology of spoken word in Canada. He believes spoken word is the truest form of poetry, as the performance aspect of it immediately reaches a listener as opposed to poetry that's solely published on paper. Do you agree/disagree?

What's Dave talking about? When you read something on the page, it also reaches you immediately. In fact, with books, the poet doesn't have to be physically present to deliver the goods. With spoken word, the performer's reach is limited to those in his/her physical presence. Books can travel all over the world much more cheaply than a human. The work can exist outside the physical presence of its creator.

Dave's a good guy, and I applaud his commitment to the form that is his passion, but calling spoken word the "truest" form — what the hell does that even mean? Is it "truer" than Shakespeare, Ashbery, Dickinson, Whitman, Blake, Lynn Crosbie, Al Purdy, bpNichol?

Why are so many spoken worders concerned with being taken seriously outside their own circles?

Why do you think spoken word/slam poetry gets a bad rap? Why isn't it respected?

Well, performance aside, most of it is terrible writing. Most of it seems only to be influenced by other spoken word/slam. I rarely see evidence that any of its performers have read any contemporary poetry. I know that David Silverberg has, because he used to run a reading series where spoken word was only one element, and yet he doesn't list a single poet in the Favourite Books section of his Facebook page.

But isn't it respected? It's respected by those who exist in its scene. Like anything else.

Please let me know if I've missed any questions.

I think it's important to frame my statements with the fact that I am an extremely popular public reader of my poetry and I love doing readings, but I believe poetry lives or dies on the page. I have six perfect-bound books of poetry out there, plus dozens of chapbooks. It's not essential that I ever do another reading, but it's essential for me that I publish again.

I'm not getting into some big goddamn thing in the comments section below, so don't even try. This is my living room. I don't even particularly care about this issue. There are more important things at hand.

Over and out.


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