Monday, February 4, 2013

Let's talk about death, baby!

So like, people, like really like to talk about poetry being dead.

This bro is all "DAG YO, SLAMS KILL POETRY"

When what he probably really means is that a lot of performance poetry is bad.

Well, duh. A lot of poetry is bad.

A response here addresses some points, but skips over its most important one:

"poets should learn their trade."

We should ALL be excellent writers AND readers.

Look to the March 7th reading, everyone. You'll see some living poetry for sure.


stu said...

Hmm. It seems to me that the argument of Thompson's article isn't just that there's a lot of bad performance poetry, it's that the very nature of performance poetry (at least as represented by the particular case of poetry slams) is causative of bad poetry.

He's really making a class argument: slams are for beer drinkers, poetry is for wine drinkers, freighted with the prejudice that beer drinkers are uncultured low-lifes, whereas wine drinkers are educated elites.

I will grant him this: If people are drunk, their aesthetic sense changes -- it becomes cruder and more receptive of crudity, and simultaneously less patient and less able to "fill in the blanks" of economical verse, irrespective of educational accomplishments. So, poetry that appeals to drunk people is likely to be different from poetry that appeals to the sober.

I'd argue with his claim that poetry "open to anyone." The very first poem in Olives uses the word "indehiscent," which was not previously a part of my lexicon. Being the sort I am, since I couldn't tease out the meaning from context, I looked it up. No big deal. But a lot of readers would have closed the book then, assuming that what ever virtue is to be found in Stalling's poetry requires a much broader lexicon than they possess. There's a teaching problem here, the first lesson of which is that false pride sustains ignorance, the second is that teachers deserve respect, and the third of which is that persistence in learning is rewarded. Note that precisely none of these three has anything specific to do with poetry.

G. M. Palmer said...

I wonder if he would own up to that accusation.

Also, slams in UK (from what I've seen on YouTube) are a bit different from my experience at US ones.

Yeah, I thought his point regarding the openness of poetry was a bit off.

I mean, apart from vocabulary problems (I had to look up indehiscent, too--though I actually use it now)--I mean look, I'm writing a long kids poem and am insisting on using the words absquatulate and reserate because they are awesome--there's a whole class of poetry (langpo) which is proudly exclusionary and ivory tower and all that.

If we can figure out how to ingrain lesson #3 in everyone, the world will be a better place.


stu said...


I do think the question of "what is the purpose of poetry" comes into play here. I'd argue that the question itself makes an inadmissible assumption, not that there is purpose, but that there is only one.

In the case of "Olives," I think that introducing the word indehiscent is part of the purpose. It is, like olives themselves, a "salty" word, and not your everyday sweet.

Slam poetry, it seems to me, will ordinarily have the purpose of winning a poetry competition judged by the overserved. I say this as someone who has never been to a poetry slam, so let me make all due pleas to the limitations of personal ignorance. At the same time, it is something that I would do, so I don't see my ignorance as being disqualifying.