Last week I did a couple of little interviews off the back of the National Slam. One was in a rainy cafe in Stokie in which I bumblingly stuttered my way through some really quite interesting questions and the other was simply an email asking my opinions on Slam. The results of these interviews for me, was a realisation that my attitude to 'The Slam' is more complex than I originally thought. I've always known that Slam is a bit of a gimmick. Pitting two poets against each other, then asking an audience to rate them on a numerical scale, is like giving someone a stuffed aubergine then performing a piece of interpretive dance, and having the lucky individual in question decide which was better. Admittedly I would probably go for the stuffed aubergine but some people hate aubergines and love interpretive dance. Heathens maybe, but their opinions are still as valid as yours or mine.
Last night I read this article about lads mags and their ideal of beauty. http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/science/the-lay-scientist/2012/may/15/1
I enjoyed the article and I would recommed it. If you've ever even smelt feminism on the wind it won't tell you anything new but it's nice to see something vile get put down articulately. Like seeing a bully get punched by a bigger boy. But punched with words and ideas and all that morale-high-ground good stuff.
'But what on earth has that got to do with poetry slams?!' Don't worry, I am not for one second about to suggest that we can cure women's oppression with poetry or stuffing aubergines. But there is a parallel between my views on Slams or 'Slam Poetry' and the women that appear in FHM, Loaded and their brothers in dross.
Lads mags select women that 'drive sales'. Gross, but understandable, these magazines are businesses. And in order to drive sales these women need to appeal to as many people as possible, right? So they are selected from the middle ground that lies between the already totally unrealistic sample of actresses, singers, broadcasters etc, that exist in the public eye and are deemed 'sexy'. So the result is an homogenised image of beauty with corset-tight limits on size, shape, colour, style, breast size etc. Not because that's what I want. Or that's what you want. Because that's what everyone wants! The humungous, dribbling, semi-erect-mutant masses have spoken. Or been told. Morons.
'WHAT IN GOD'S NAME HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH POETRY SLAMS!' As if you care that much. But I'm getting there. It is my opinion that slams don't really mean a shit. Very often, in my opinion, it is not the best poem or performance that wins a slam. If poets, myself included, enter slams to win and I'm slightly ashamed to say I normally do, then we need to appeal to as many people as possible. To draw the lads mag parallel, points equals sales, our poems are ze women.
Now I don't think the UK poetry scene is homogenised AT ALL. I think it's delicious. I love it. But there is a certain type of poem that generally wins slams. It's funny, a bit topical, it rhymes, it's funny, it's three minutes long or less, it rhymes, it's funny, it rhymes and it doesn't take itself too seriously. This type of poem seems to most appeal to the largest percentage of people. So to draw the parallel further, the rhymes are the augmented boobies, the jokes are the high bums, the hint of topicality is the stiletto legs, and not taking itself too seriously is the come-to-bed eyes and sense of pre-submission.
As I was saying, the UK scene is wonderfully varied and has a whole host of distinct and excellent voices. I don't think Slam will erode this. However in America, where Slam poetry is a bigger deal, and winning the Nationals can be a career maker, there seems to be a more singular, standardised voice. This is a bit scary and why my feelings towards Slam are so mixed. Yes, they are a brilliant way of injecting drama and a sense of occasion into what is basically an open mic. Yes, they engage the audience by making them participants in a competition. Yes, they pit poet against poet which is pretty cool in a scene that is generally super-friendly and accepting. But they potentially erode the element of self-expression by coercing a poet to appeal to a general, indistinct mass; The public. In the above article ,Girls on the Net are referenced as describing the lads mag phenomenon as the tedium that comes with consensus. This tedium is far more worrying in the domain of our views on women's bodies. But potentially it could fuck up a poetry scene as well.
I like stuffed Aubergines and I like interpretive dance. I don't want either of those things to disappear. Slam as a format is awesome, that's a given. If we can retain what it's for and not get carried away, that'd be brilliant. If the slam becomes the be all and end all, we might find poet's voices going the same way as FHM's ladies. A widely-accepted, unchallenging, submissive poem doesn't sound like the kind of poem I want to hear.