As I dragged my beat orange suitcase up on to David Silverberg’s porch in Toronto, I had a little moment of reflection. I started here. I will finish here. Strange.
I have always regarded Canada as having one of the most hectic yet successful performance poetry scenes that I have witnessed, and now that I have finished my trip, I can officially say so. Scenes in Canada are organized, efficient, in touch with each other and cooperative. It runs like a finely oiled machine… all because of a mutual love of poetry and community.
That being said, there is something to say for smaller performance poetry scenes. I’ve been asked a lot lately about which scene was “the best” or “the most alive”, and it’s a hard question to answer. Vienna had enthusiasm like what I imagined the Green Mill was like during the adolescent years of the poetry slam- a crowded bar,simply packed with people smoking cigarettes and drinking large pints of beer, the audience mouthing off to the MCs, booing the judges and cheering the poets. And, as I said before, Canada certainly was the most efficient scene I’ve witnessed (efficient to the point where I have to stop and wonder if it is possible for performance poetry to get *too* big, *too* mainstream that it might end up killing itself- like Rock n Roll?) Each country I went to had it’s own idiosyncratic style, it’s own networking abilities and it’s own issues. And I realized, there- while standing on David’s porch- that there was one poetry scene that made me really excited about performance poetry; one place where the events were commercial, but not too commercial, where the poets worked together even though they competed against one another. There was a place, a very small and quiet city that I almost skipped over entirely, where the poetry actually touched me, the way it used to when I first began this trip. Auckland, NZ takes the prize for my favorite. Small, polite Auckland that seemed to buzz and teem with energy and creativity. It was organized and advertised enough to pull a strong following for the weekly events, yet still managed to maintain a renegade, sub-cultural vibe. Its places like Auckland that remind me why I got into poetry in the first place- to make a connection with people through poetry who normally wouldn’t read poetry.
Alas, I’m back in North America, welcomed so graciously into Silverberg’s home. Over dinner last night, David mentioned a recent blog entry that has turned the Toronto Poetry scene into a tizzy. I decided to check it out to see what all the fuss is about. You can check it out too, here:
Reading this blog entry made me want to puke. Not necessarily because I disagree (he’s got a valid point), but because it’s such a pointless, empty and tired argument. The “page vs. stage” battle (oh yes, it’s so common that they’ve made up a clever rhyming name for it) has been going on…. forever. You could trace it back to the Beat generation: how many critics scoffed at Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac for their writing styles, for the way they mixed music with poetry. And as we all know, those who prefer “classic” art styles often clash with those who prefer “contemporary” art styles. I even recall one Harold Bloom saying “spoken word is the death of art” which raised quite the scuffle in the USA poetry scene in the mid 90’s.
But here’s how I really feel about it. My honest opinion: (and since I’ve spent the whole year traveling around the world studying this “art form”, I think I’m pretty qualified to voice my opinion now).
It doesn’t really matter.
Wake up guys. Put it in perspective and stop being so serious. It’s poetry. Or not. It’s art. Or not. The fact is, it exists, it survives and it’s drawing huge crowds. It has the power to bring people from all sorts of backgrounds and countries together. I’ve seen first hand how it can cause a productive dialogue between sexes, races and nationalities. It is an outlet for a kid whose parents ignore him, or for the one who gets beat up in school. It’s a way for people to remember stories, or tell someone in the audience that they love them, or tell the whole audience that they love them. It’s a way to bring people together- to get people to turn off the television, laptop, ipod or whatever their brains are permanently hooked up to and listen to other people. For no other reason than the simple fact that they want to listen and be listened to.
I’m tired of poets or spoken word artists or whatever you want to call them (us), getting so defensive about what people want to call them (us). Because in the end, it doesn’t matter if some guy named Paul or Harold or my uncle george thinks it’s “real art”. Whatever it is, it’s out there, it’s beautiful and it’s growing like mad.
And I think we should just be happy with that.