Labia Versus the Machine: Round Four.

5 Jan

Marcellus is teaching me how to hack robots. It’s incredibly fun and empowering, and not something I ever thought I’d do. It’s also helping me to view the framework of these posts in a brighter light.

I grew up in the 80s, an era when popular culture was actively grappling with the implications of all kinds of new, accessible technologies: video games, robots, and PCs. We watched shows like “Small Wonder”, where the title character’s mechanized antics reliably opened the way to chaos. Lots of infantilized Asian boys and men appeared as clowns in movies like “The Goonies” and “Sixteen Candles”, linking technology and geekiness with the wacky. We were awestruck and horrified at the Terminator’s destructive potential. Movies like “The Wizard” showed us tech could be cool and useful – but still beyond the grasp of average people.

Now it’s pretty standard for folks above a certain income bracket to walk around with tiny computers in their pockets, and to have multiple smart machines at home and work. Tech is more accessible than ever in some ways, even if many of us still lack a basic grasp of how our tools and toys work.

As poets, we have tremendous potential at our disposal. Poetry has the capacity to transform communities and individuals. I’ve seen it happen over and over. But for all our rhetoric of change, many of us accept the standard operating system instead of questioning how we might benefit from reconsidering what’s possible.

I’ve come up with a few more tips for women who want to slam or/and perform spoken word. None of these tips merits its own post, I don’t think, but each warrants some mention:

*Modulate your voice. It sounds superficial, I know, but this is a tip Kim Johnson gave me when I was just beginning. No one wants to hear a shrill woman. People rarely want to hear a whiny woman. This is fucked-up, but I’ve heard many complaints from audience members to this effect. Pitch your voice lower for greater efficacy.

*Respect the mic. Respect the mic itself. Learn how to work with it, learn how to position it. Practice in your home venue on your own before the show starts, or ask around. This is the ultimate tool of your trade, and building a relationship with it is vital.

*Write and perform a wide range of work. I still think too many women are writing poems primarily for their own therapeutic purposes. This is fine. This can also be done very, very well. This might be your primary strength as a poet: finding catharsis through the stage and giving other people permission to feel their own pain through yours. I also think too many women write primarily page-oriented poems, never memorizing or learning basic performance techniques. This is fine, too. I adore the page, and I listen well. But if you want longevity – if you want to be doing this five or ten years from now – you need to respect your own range. Take risks. Write something frivolous if you tend to delve into darkness. Write something specifically designed to be performed if you hide behind the page.

I also have a few tips for those of us who want to see more women compete and conquer:

Encourage women who get on the mic. This is as simple as complimenting someone whose poem you like. She might not know she’s doing something good unless you say so.

Don’t sleep with rookies. Just wait a year. Please. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s got to be the number one reason most women don’t stay in the scene, no matter their sexual orientation. My first coach, Mona Webb, warned me about this early on, but not everyone has a Mona in her life.

Keep your eyes open for women to mentor. Rachel McKibbens suggested, on Karen’s original thread, that women need to be mentored by women, seeing as our journey is somewhat different. I guess I have to disagree on that point, as most of the folks who’ve guided me through poetry and slam have been men (and a few who you really wouldn’t expect). Maybe in a perfect world we’d have enough women who are focused enough on just this to mentor every new woman who comes up, but we aren’t there yet. I’ve also offered to mentor several people over the years, and on the whole, the men tend to follow through much more than the women do… If you’re a coach or a poet who sees someone whose work and demeanor speak to you, look for a good moment to approach them and offer your advice.

Support. Listen to women’s poetry. Read women’s poetry. Buy women’s books. Support presses run by women. Attend women’s readings. Attend the Women of the World Poetry Slam and volunteer, or just listen. If you don’t do any of these things, you’re an ally in name alone. This INCLUDES women.

DIY. If you identify as female, read your poems in the open mic. Better, host. Better, coach. Better, slam, even if it’s only now and then. Lead by example, and you’ll show others what’s truly possible.

That’s all I’ve got for now, folks. Thanks for reading, and commenting, b/c or otherwise. Just remember: the more complex and unwieldy the machine, the harder it is to hack. Godspeed.


2 Responses to “Labia Versus the Machine: Round Four.”

  1. La Toya "Lady Rose" January 18, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    Ms. Yes Yes : ), I always appreciate your tips. I met you in Portland about a year ago and look forward to seeing you there in February. I hope you still have books left! Safe travels, La Toya

    • Laura Yes Yes January 18, 2011 at 3:00 am #

      Thank you, love! I look forward to seeing you, too. 🙂

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