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Labia Versus the Machine: Round One.

16 Dec

In a recent post, my friend Karen made some interesting comments and observations about women in slam. It’s a topic I’ve thought a lot about and written a lot about, and still endlessly fascinating. I’m going to write a few posts reflecting on what it means to live this profession with this here vagina.

While at iWPS this year, I noticed (on FB) that an ex of mine was very noticeably, openly supporting a few competing poets. Although I was in solid contention after the first night, and made a point to let him know, his silence towards and about me saddened and overwhelmed me. This is a man who I’ve worked very hard to support and promote professionally from the very beginning. This is also a man who, even when we were together, displayed occasional jealousy and ambivalence when I began to be successful in this field.

This relationship didn’t end well, and it’s clear he’s still carrying a lot of sadness which seems to exacerbate the aforementioned behaviors. He’s also incredibly competitive, which explains part of the reason why he didn’t always support me while we were together. Karen’s take on it was simply that it’s impossible to be friends with some exes. Fair. I don’t blame him for that. And this is, in some ways, just one particular love story gone wrong. But this incident inspired me to talk about something I’ve had on my mind for a while.

For a woman poet, particularly one who almost exclusively dates straight men, it’s extremely important to be involved with someone who supports her art. I CANNOT emphasize this enough, and I can not say this too often. If your partner tries to prevent your writing, performing, competing, or touring, overtly or otherwise, I’d recommend you get out of that situation immediately.

If your partner is another poet, I’d highly recommend being involved with one who respects and enjoys your art. If your partner is a civilian, I don’t think it’s crucial that he/she understand your work, be a fan, or/and come to your shows, because poetry really isn’t everyone’s thing. But if this is what you do, make sure you’re involved with someone who gives you space and time to pursue your craft, and who, at the least, can be happy with and for you when you do well.

I love my ex very, very much, but this is an issue we’ve discussed and argued over too many times. And I know too many women artists (most of us, it seems) who have struggled hard for validation in our own homes – as though the weight of the world outside weren’t enough.

Be excellent. Be safe. ❤

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A Few Notes on Competition: WoWPS Post 2

5 May

I realize that by saying WoW wasn’t that much fun for me, I was implying that competition itself isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun. In this particular instance, I badly wanted to make a finals stage and I was getting impatient, so it was difficult to relax.

But being onstage is almost always fun to me (except in those scary, scary dreams), and performing the right poem at the right moment is especially enjoyable and exciting. Other aspects of competition can be fun, too: trying to beat someone whose haircut annoys you, for example. All told, the pirate queen in me occupies a very different territory from the bleeding-heart Californian (as some might see me), but when I slam, those two aspects necessarily have to coexist. The excited, fiery part that loves to battle and loves to win, and the sweeter dreamier part that loves connecting with people.

Rambling: It’s grey out, but a beautiful morning.

I care about writing and performing and connecting well, and I care about the game. If you consider games as a means to test oneself and be social, there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. If the recent past is any indication, I prefer to play Bully with John (Survivor) or Rob or Courtney instead of alone, and I never play Mario without Kate, Dave, Bekah, Courtney, Natalie, Rob or John (and we got Dad to play Mario once, right? but Mom didn’t play? but they both played some Wii Sports with us, which was cool. Emily Rose and her sister play Rock Band together, so that might be good as well.)

Suffice it to say I’m actually more interested in the interactive element of games. Khary has a sweet, funny PS2 poem in which he dreams of a “lovely Player 2” to join him, and that makes sense to me on a very elemental level. Maybe because my mom raised us to play cards together, don’t know. But I want to take a second to talk about aspects of the game of slam that I love and hate.

Winning isn’t everything, but winning is often good. Winning even the smallest slam implies a certain mastery of competition, of performance, of poetry, and love, I think. The love can be of the game itself, of humanity, of the attention and exuberance from being onstage, of moving one’s body beautifully or saying aloud words that sound and feel good together… Don’t matter. To do well, you have to love several of these things, and they’re all cool. To do noticeably well consistently, and to stay a slammer over the course of many years, I think you have to love most of these things.

I repeat: winning isn’t everything. MANY of my favorite poets, and people, don’t win a lot of slams, or don’t slam at all. I like a lot of people who like slam partly because we share a common interest/obsession, and I respect people who slam well as coworkers and competitors, but in the end, slam is a game, and no matter how much I like them, a lot of things in life matter more to me than games.

Rambling: The sun came out. Maybe I should go to the library when my laundry’s done.

Cliques suck. As much as I love my slam family goodness, I never ever want to be a Cool Kid. If we take slam as a game to a sports level, I never want to be the hot quarterback who treats people like shit because they don’t hang out with him or do the same stuff he does. The almost completely insular nature of slam annoys me, and so does tribalism; folks have a funny habit of hating on scenes they aren’t a part of. Competition seems to bring that out in people more, but I guess we’re all pretty much programmed to hate on shit we don’t immediately understand or recognize. Losing to someone or something you don’t get or trust feels really fucking bad, and that feeling makes people act badly.

Slamming brings people together. I’ve bonded really deeply with most of the folks who have coached me and the ones I’ve been on teams with, and being a part of the game helps me to respect and connect with folks who live all over the US, and also in Canada and France.

Rambling: It was good to see Sierra, if only for a hot minute. Also, I just called a pouch of Bugler “my Preciousss”.

So there you have it. A couple of things about slam. Careful as I am, I’m sure I still managed to offend someone, but I simply don’t care. My next post is going to be about Finals, I think, a little on the game, and a little on the experience itself.

Business vs. Pleasure – WoWPS Post #1

3 May

Will Evans, one of Columbus' many amazing organizers, with Copperhead Red.

Alright, humans. I’ve decided to take the month of May off Facebook in an attempt to improve my quality of life. I’m making exceptions for all stuff photo-related, and tagging folks on blogs – but I’m not responding to any comments, tags or posts on FB at this time. In other news: after years of courting, I asked myself to be my girlfriend – and I said yes. We are very much in love.

When last we talked story, I’d just finished an intensive mini-tour of New England and was on my way to Columbus for the Women of the World Poetry Slam. I was a little burned-out and ambivalent going in. My experiences with individual competition had been disappointing – and given the level of exposure I already had within the family, I wasn’t sure my investment (registration, travel, hotel, living expenses) would be well-spent. But a family reunion’s a family reunion, right? Leave it to me to let my heart come before business – at least in theory…

Family milling about before prelims.

***

What Makes a Great National Poetry Event

Obviously the concerns of money, relationship with the city, and all the professional stuff matter, but as a participating poet/volunteer who doesn’t really have to worry about the behind-the-scenes stuff, I have my own checklist as to what makes an event successful. The Columbus organizers did a stellar job on all these fronts.

Reasonable walking radius. Most poets don’t arrive at these events with their own transportation, so being able to walk from one venue to the next with ease is a real treat. The Columbus venues were almost all located within a few blocks of the hotel.

Good relationship with the hotel. This makes a huge difference. Nasty hotel staff have seriously fucked up some poetry moments for me. I don’t know how much the organizers can control this, except to make sure the hotel has some sense of who they’re dealing with, and to get us a 24-hour room in which to wile out. I really liked the hotel staff in Columbus. The doorman was a darling, and the cleaning staff very sweet and courteous.

Free food. Most of us are broke and don’t take good care of ourselves, so a free meal is a big deal. Especially a delicious one. Columbus offered free soul food before finals, which I hear was excellent indeed.

Appropriate venues. Cafes with sass, bars or clubs prepared to devote the evening to bouts, and accessible blackbox theaters are all fine examples. You want spots where ordinary folks will be anyway, or be near, without the poets having to compete with TVs or surly patrons for attention. The venues should also be sized appropriately, so a crowd of fifty doesn’t feel like a crowd of five. In both my preliminary venues and the finals venue, I felt the organizers had done an excellent job picking the proper spaces.

Good example of a nice, packed venue.

Good staffing. Impartial, professional volunteers make a big difference, too. Hosts make an obvious difference in the pacing and quality of a show, but all the background folks – official and otherwise – keep the event as a whole feeling organic. Columbus felt seamless.

Two of our handsome volunteers.

Asses in seats. There’s nothing more disheartening than having a room full of hot poets ready to spit – but no non-poet audience to watch or judge. This has been an issue at every national event I’ve attended – but Columbus did a good job. Bouts generally started on time, and I wasn’t witness to any truly desperate scrambling for judges.

***

With all that said, this was still the least fun I’ve ever had at a national event. The poetry was phenomenal, of course – what I got to hear of it. These months later, the two poems I heard for the first time in prelims that have really stayed with me would have to be Chauncey Beaty’s fruit flies poem (um, guffaw), and Rachel McKibbens’ last love poem (chills). When I’m competing, I don’t get to listen as closely or attentively as I’d like, so I’m afraid I didn’t get to hear or properly retain a lot of amazing poetry. That’s part of why I didn’t have that much fun. I was serious. I stayed serious through prelims, even after the bouts. I wasn’t around to play with my friends very much – but hey. I made it to finals stage. That was the goal all along.