Monday, July 29, 2013

Atomous kai kenon

Standing on the corner a-ringing a bell. And up stepped the sheriff...

How's it going he asked.

Just standing here, you know holding up the wall. Really there taint not much to report really. You?

The shoppers and the workers in town swirled and rambled all around and about us.

Got time?

For you? Of course.

Let's duck in this here joint get us some coffee. It has been a while we can catch up. And besides I am freezing.

Well, I said, as there is not much happening from my end I'm happy to join you in a coffee.

It was more than true that there was not much to say about my life, the last few months have been little more than the daily grind of family and work and all the forms of mental illness that come free with the working class loss of free will life style.

So we sat and we ordered a coffee each. I like to order latte because of the idea -- I think it was Simon Crean who put it out there -- that one can not be a good union member and drink latte. I wanted to prove him wrong. And a long black.

I saw Ian the other day.

Really and how is he?

Good, he was all excited, he had been to the poetry slam heats and later on he read something in the open mic section later. So he was -- yeah all excited. You know Ian.

Indeed he's a pistol. I thanked the waiter for the latte and played with the sandy coloured froth, distorting the intricately poured design. What did he think? I am sure he would have gone all ultra on their arse.

No he was cool. He was surprised -- pleasingly surprised - cause he reckons that the slam format is all male oriented. So he was sort of impressed about the fact that there was about half and half girl boy performers and two of the three finalists were women.

Yeah, well no, that is good. Ian is good like that. He has a, you know, open mind. Having played rugby in college, it has always struck me passing strange how something like poetry can become so macho. Some people just gotta get all competitive. Like those aggro cooking shows. But I think it must be the shirtless, arm waving, shouty-man performance aspect. You know the winning and the losing.

Sure - that is exactly what Ian was saying too. And he thought it cool the way the slam brings out all sorts of poets from out of the woodwork. You know there are heats all across the country?

Yep, and did you know that we were lovers for a while?

Truly? I did not know that. Makes you more attractive to me.

That lemming has dived off the cliff. I have lost all interest. I am pretty much asexual these days. Does not even enter my pretty little head. We all wear a variety of, various masques, do we not? LOL. et tu? And besides after 911 there ain't no need for performance poetry anymore.

I guess.

Yeah but you know I gotta force myself to jerk off at least once a week, you know just to maintain good prostate health.

So okay, whatever. Ian thought it was a good night. He is very political. Right? So he was, he said, he had been to a few slams over the years around and on the mainland and they never really caught his interest. At the heat last week he thought maybe it was you know maybe he dug it cause of the small town vibe of Hobart. People having to make their own fun and whatever.

At this point an earnest young woman, Iona, wearing a fourth doctor sort of scarf -- she told me later her thirteen year old niece had knitted a bunch of these scarfs for various family members -- ripped jeans and a leather jacket, and her equally, if more traditionally garbed beard and glasses sloppy jumper earnest brother Bloom interrupted.

Slam is the democratisation of poetry, of verse. It allows more voices. It may be macho at times and places, but at the same time slams allow different voices to be heard. The voices of women in particular. They may or may not win, that is not really the point. Poets get to perform, mind if I sit, and so by performing they get to build up confidence. What they do from then is up to the person. But lots of voices, of the marginalised and the ones who have not had the opportunity get to be heard. Did you ever read The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry? You should read it, by Somers-Willett - it is interesting. She is in US so she does not talk about the Australian scene. But she does talk about the divide. Poetry in the academy versus in the bars and in the alleyways. I will send you a link of a review.

Like Bukowski.

Or Ginsberg before. Whitman when he said something like, Great Poetry needs a Great Audience.

It is that DIY punk sort of a feel innit. The sum is worth more than the parts. The audience is central to the performance. Slam is the all night acid house dance rave party, the stage dive, slam is Shane MacGowan getting his ear bit off while Joe Stummer caterwaul strums what the hell is wrong with me? The Bomber boys who stole kit during the great blackout and went out to the street corners and clubs and puked forth grinding poverty hip-hop.

I lived for a while in Canberra, the poets there seem to do a good job of it.

Last century there used to be a cool scene in bris vegas based at the Storey Bridge Hotel.

Still your boy Ian reckons that slam is an inherently broken form, due to the idea of competition. The very nature of the slamming scene is broken.

By now we had repaired to a little downstairs hole in the wall jazz wine bar. Trading latte for beer and cider and cheap industrial port, not being able, no matter how ironically I tried, to abide Chardonnay. And conversions swirled and jostled for attention like bored children bickering in the supermarket trolley. Beer flowed like wine. This way and that way words flowed and swirled around all opposition and solid forms finding new paths and forging new channels. Ideas and flirtations. We all overlapped and argued for time and space around an unoriginal table stained years of excited bullshitting and alcohol. A small gang melded the group pushing the tables together, painters, dealers and stoned rappers. Ply upon sandy ply.

No! Slams are good they give people immediate feedback and if the poets or whatever listen and learn they come back and think about things and they can stumble about improve. Even if only in the sense of winning the twenty dollars at the end of the night. But it is all supportive. The old way of getting poems out there -- from entering the contest to getting final finished published book containing heartfelt poems -- could take you know quite a long time. Getting hooked into the slam scene one has a focus. Keep writing monthly new stuff. A monthly deadline. Asses must be driven, as the saying goes, to hay with blows. Or polishing up some piece they are particularly fond of.

It is the constant changing of styles and forms. And a bringing together of voices from all around the country, bush & city. Big places and small. The old and the young. The old hand and the tyro. Coming into being and passing away. The way certain groups, particular groups coalesce around their daily lives and so form particular styles. Meeting in cafes or pubs, sober or not or high as kites and sounds and voices bubble up and styles come and go. Some move on, most are like writers or visual artists just experimenting about or musicians trying out song ideas, or just drunken layabout no names ecstasy poets seeking to get some kicks and maybe laid. All sorts. Resorting to nutmeg. Which as it was the sailors high seems appropriate for Hobart. Eh?

But this very diversity is as much about fragmentation and loss of community as it is about anything. It is one group seedling in and carving out and a liquidness that disbars other groups. I am not making myself clear. Like the way yon internet has a chat group a forum a scene for each and everyone for every sort of idea or kink you can think of and so people become more close, closer in fact, to some random cat two thirds of a wide and wicked world away -- round the world -- or even more better unknown just down the road. And so what ever you want to call it, skate punk XY youth label culture, or some sort of arty boho scene, or some inarticulate anarcho-dread progressive culture all movement it all gets sort of rutted on the ancient wallaby track and people get isolated and so isolate themselves fragmenting into every sort of fraction or clique or ratio group or faction that you could ever think of -- so by this fragmenting we argue and miss the boat the moment and while trying to become the perfecting ourselves change we want the world to be the bosses laugh all the way to bank. Their wealth is my death my life is being broke. Whoa!

Personally, to me it is the death of art, well maybe not THE death of art. This bunch of unemployed or under-employed or unemployable can never destroy art, not even poetry. But this entire American Idol, clap-o-meter idea. When the hurlyburly's done it comes down to me hating this pub scene poet scene the drinking the braking of glass and the nauseating sound of the cash register. Ugh - sends shivers down me spine. Like that inane Nokia ring tone. Makes me physically wanna be ill just thinking about it. But this venereal measuring clap-o-meter could never tear down art by itself. But it is the fragmenting the murdering of art with one thousand cuts. Bleeding it out. No not cuts -- how quaintly cliché of moi. Rather it is like the Cyberian reindeer in the thawing spring time tundra. So many mosquitoes. Fantastic clouds in number and in formation of the blood suckers like dentist drills rise up from countless small puddles and pools of melt water. So much so that some beasts perish with anemia. From so many tiny little bites from so much drop by life creating drop blood being drained. While others in the vast herds are driven insane and panicked fleeing and flailing about the reindeer exhaust themselves running this way and yon - not never being able to find relief.

No it is the democratic dubstep hodge podge of voices and opinions, a honing of ideas in a furnace of art and competition and sampling commerce. The free interchange market of twenty four hour party signs and signifiers of many voices striving for the one voice the way to describe what it is we have been thrown into. For if we be equal in one way, then we must be equal in all ways. Each of us should be expected to have something to say, and we should be allowed to say it. It is even our duty as citizens, whatever the hell that may mean, to speak our mind. Two thirds Rosa Luxemburg, one part Dr Suess. And the slam movement has wrested and extorted poetry from the Academy. Too too much poetry is controlled by the guild of English professors and those who having access and resources speak of the primacy of the written word over the spoken word. It is a silly argument to have as they are both of value. The best writing is best if it is closest to conversation. Even the old fashioned five paragraph essay form should be read aloud, if only as part of the editing precess. Slam poets are like the old beardy bards, like the rhapsodes of Homer's time.

No, not like rhapsodes at all. The name shows the difference. Rhapsode mean to stitch together a song or even better a stitching together of lies. Those poets would have to commit to memory scenes and phrases and what not so then can then, on the spot stitch together a song a lay. They were able to put theses formulas of meter and narrative together. Maybe in new and varied ways. But one big thing that these archaic poets would not have liked would have been innovation. They were very concerned with keeping intact the ideas of the cycle. And it was all you know religious and traditional and you know religion and tradition hate change. The word that Homer used was singer. And here you are right, cause the first duty of the singer is to sing, and the slam venue is just the place to do that. Again we have the idea of immediacy, of meeting face to face like minded people in your community. This is the power of the medium.

Immediate and democratic, and even if I do not agree with what you say, I have to go along with what Sylvia Beach said about Joyce -- he treated people invariably as his equals, whether they were writers, children, waiters, princesses, or charladies. What anybody had to say interested him; he told me that he had never met a bore.

The babbling pumpt of platinism

Yes well LOL sometimes it takes a bit of digging to find out the kernel of the poem or the poet that is any good, worth remembering.

I like the idea of the anti-slam, everyone gets how ever much time and everyone is given as a score a perfect 10. Performing is the victory. Like the Seinfeld joke, people would rather be in the coffin than give the eulogy.

But I guess that raises the question as to how to get an audience to attend what is little more than a poetry recital. Anyway it is getting late. I have to dreadful work in the beastly morning. Until next time, I said, putting on my scarf and overcoat, I shall leave y'all with Democritus, “The realm of the universe is atoms and space, the things that are, are custom. These universes are infinite and so they come into being and they perish.”

Monday, July 1, 2013

loquere ut videam te

...within his head many words, but disorderly; vain, and without decency, to quarrel with the princes. Iliad 2.213-4

I went into town last week. I went to the small hole in the wall smelling of thick rich coffee and of thicker and richer spices cafe -- Frankie's Empire. I ordered three well appreciated hot chocolates for the children, and a flat white for myself. Besides the well received drinks I was interested in see a new -- for Hobart anyway -- cafe poetry or to be more precise spoken word night. New to Hobart, but not a new idea. There are monthly readings (first Sunday of the month) at the Republic Hotel. I do not want to get into a debate over the merits of this event as against that event, nor do I want to get entangled with the even more ludicrous argument comparing the relative merits of the spoken word as against the written word. I do, however, want to offer a frail apologia for the will and representation of the spoken word, the open mic event.

So it seems that was the end of things, but then I thought over my past, about the many people who have been not supportive of open mics. The ones who have pronounced such nights to be awful, or even atrocious. And some seem to create a distinction the written and the spoken, and privilege the written. I have never thought that this was the right attitude. No sense getting into an argument here, but I will quote Swinburne and say that the first rule of the singer is to sing. Take this as you will.

Atrocious & awful, sure. But this is very nature of the open mic - poetry slam scene. But let us be generous in our criticism. Maybe not always possible, but in this case I think the thought of critical generosity should be kept in mind. My visit was only the third time this event (silverwords) was held. It is very much an amateur or DIY sort-of-event, in the sense of having no government or university grant money to support the organiser, but more importantly in the sense of being a labour of love.

Describing this sort of spoken word evening as awful shows the wrong attitude to have to open mic. Even if most of the poems were crap, the questions must be: did you have a bit of fun? did you get out of the house? did you hear even one line that was of interest? I have been wandering in and out of these sorts of poetry readings and slams and etc for a great many years, ever since I stumbled into the DC Space bar on a cold wintry night two generations ago. One of the things that I love about this open mic formula is the fact that all are welcome. How hard is it for the average person to jump up on stage and read a poem that they wrote?

Omar Musa, Brett Dionysius, Miranda Lello, Jared Louche, Rebbecca Edwards, are among the poets, musicians, artists that I have known, off the top of my head, who have toyed with the open reading format at various times in their careers. Together they have put out albums, books, blogs, journals and much more. While it would be foolish to say that spoken word was a main determinate in their work, it would be as equally foolish to deny the education of the open reading environment. Like Julia Gillard in her resignation speech, “it does not explain everything, nor does it explain nothing.” For open mic is primarily a way for people to quickly get feedback and encouragement for their work.

And here we have stumbled across the key word. Encouragement. Open readings offer the young, whether young in age or in spirit, player a chance to try out material, stances, vocal styling etc. as Adonis Storr, the event organiser said at the beginning of the evening we are here to encourage each other and love one another (or as Ted "Theodore" Logan would say, be excellent to one another)

Open mic nights show a type of democracy, a type of democracy that is messy, rowdy, uneven, but mostly participatory. In the second book of the Iliad after Zeus had sent a riddling dream to Agamemnon there is an spoken word, open discussion of what Acheans are to do. Even the lowliest can speak. Thersites -- whose name means the bold, the audacious -- was the only brawling belly-aching foot soldier, the only private mentioned by name in the poem, that spoke. Although he was howled down and beaten by Odysseus his speech is a turning point of the war; for after his speech the Acheans agreed to stay at Troy and not return home. But did he not speak the truth? Did he repeat what Achilles said, did he capture the soldiers demoralisation after having lost Achilles to the greed of Agamemnon? Did he not say what all were thinking, but were too fearful to utter? Did not this wretched, cold, wet, brutalised, foot soldier at once mirror Achilles' attack on Agamemnon and the established heroic order, and at the same time mock Achilles, being as wretched as the hero is glorious?

In this way we can see that the open mic, spoken word format is a type of democracy assembly; in the sense that all are equal, not in ability or experience, but in the ability to speak and take part. Indeed in the democracy of classic Athens one was expected to take part, and to speak well. To show a concrete example of this democratic spirit at least two people who had never read a poem in public before spoke on this night.

With no, or at best elastic, themes for these evenings the poets were free to investigate a wide range of spoken words; from dubstep rapping to Banjo Paterson.

And the hurrying people daunt me,and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

A young man sang to Jesus for setting him on the on the straight and narrow. Love songs hate songs tumbled some spoke political other declaimed apolitical still others in turn spoke fierce, calm, earnest, whimsical. If one wanted to quote Lenin one could use the idea of the joy of the festival of the oppressed

For who will make the poetical revolutions? The academics? The narrow professional literary journals? Any revolution, whether in art or politics, will be built by the broken, by the outsider (consider the 1961 Dylan unwashed phenomenon, or the filthy 1977 Sex Pistols or a world or two before the poverty stricken, rotten toothed 1921 James Joyce forced by need to accepting gifts of shoes by Ezra Pound.)

Looking back over years of poetry readings, it is these acts of self organisation that will advance poetry. Even if nothing comes maybe one or two people will develop a life long habit of writing poetry.

Some of the problems with the open mic include the problem of, at best, a patchy selection of poems. It is just the nature of the beast, as it is true for poetry journals and canonised collections. The idea is to allow new and unpublished poets the opportunity to gather and to share and read aloud. The benefit is to hear new voices, new ideas, ideas which are often not spoken, voices which often do not get heard. For example when I did a quick, non-scientific, survey of a noted on-line poetry magazine, I was impressed by the fact that the majority of artists in the journal were in the (mostly tertiary) education industry or entangled with the arts bureaucracy in one way or another. There were some poets, but not many, from outside these circles.

Spoken word nights may be insular, may be hit or miss affairs, may even be atrocious and awful, but they are also a cheap and fun night out, they offer that chance to hear some new poems, and they offer the chance to have some interesting conversations. But most importantly is the confidence that poetry slams can give to new players. For poetry in general, and performance poetry in particular is a ladder to be climbed. Spoken word offers much to be learned, as it is a skill and an art like others.

Do not take my word for it watch this video about the Canberra Poetry scene, built over over many years with a dedicated crew of young and enthusiastic poets. Or even better come along to Frankie's Empire on Thursday 4 July for a spoken word night, and then on Friday 19 of July come along as Frankie's Empire and Silver Words host the Hobart heats of the Australian Poetry Slam Contest.

Also the Republic Hotel in North Hobart was readings on the first Sunday of every month.

and the latin title means - speaks that i may see you.