Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Spoken Word and Slam...Poetry?

Kyle "Guante" Tran Myhre
     Kyle "Guante" Tran Myhre's "Both Sides of the 'Is Poetry Dead?' Debate Miss the Big Picture" doesn't really address the title's topic for long.  The text is wordy.  He engages in the typical synecdochical fallacy, wantonly conflating "poetry" with two of its supersets, "slam" and "spoken word".  He confuses form, medium and content in places.  He doesn't seem to understand what poetry is...but there's a lot of that going around.  Like his textual counterparts, he wastes verbage on discussions of content:  "Everyone Has a Story", "Every Story Has Value", there's politics, "social justice issues", abuse, healing power, etc.  Having established that, as a mode of speech, poetry can be used to address every genre and topic imaginable, why get into content at all?

     Nevertheless, he [perhaps inadvertently] raises an interesting point.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #62
     For this to make sense, we need to go over a few basics.  Poetry is verbatim.  It is learned and reproduced word for word by others over time.  It isn't "dead because fewer people buy poetry books";  it is dead because no one, usually starting with the author, cares to commit it to memory and present it.  Where would film and theatre be if there were no performances? 

     I agree with the thrust of "Guante's" thesis:  a slam might include things closer to poetry than the typical reading simply because at least some of the competitors will have bothered to memorize their work and all of them understand the need to present it to viewers.  What we see in 'zines and books may be better written than most spoken word but, with few exceptions, it satisfies neither of the requirements¹ for actual poetry.  Still, the open mic is the closest facsimile of the gatherings that led to the first poetry.  What is missing is that one speech that so impressed the listeners that they preserved it in memory and culture, much as we do today with song lyrics.  What is missing is people who give a damn.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #9
     Mr. Myhre correctly surmises that YouTube serves and will serve as the proving ground.  He errs in assuming that the measure of poetry is how many people view it.  If this were the case, the average SuperBowl commercial would be considered Shakespeare.  A better indicator would be how many people cover or quote it.  That is, how many others reproduce that piece, in whole or in part? 

     When that happens we can talk about "slam-" or "spoken word poetry".  Or contemporary print poetry, for that matter.


¹ - The two requirements being that it be reproduced verbatim and for an audience.  Put simply, a person is not a poet until others choose to perform his or her work.

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