Friday, June 19, 2009

Slam poetry and the reviewing thereof

Poet Victor Infante wrote this, elsewhere:

So here's what I think the world of poetry needs: A regular column or space in a high-end, respected and decently distributed mainstream literary journal dedicated strictly to the discussion and critique of slam and related non-establishment poetry: why and how it works, what does and does not deserve to survive from the canon, what deserves more attention. It's mission would be to explore what fromt he alternative has been sublimated into the maisntream, and to look past the standard arguments for what's new and important.

He mentioned this was part of an ongoing dialog between himself and friends, as it is an ongoing dialog in the poetry world (big world, lots of poetry, lots of poets).

Every form of art and art maker deserves attention. Music in its constant rebirth, from drumming to chant to weird Chinese opera (sorry) to Mozart to Ali Akbar Khan to Stevie Wonder (well named) to native American flute.... I note that in The Onion,  reviews are more of popular music, whereas The N. Y. Times or The New Yorker review pop, jazz, classical, "world" (a word meaning not made in America, as "regional theater" means not produced in New York City).

Here's my question. Is being reviewed the goal? What is the value of a review? To create buzz, get attention?

Here's my other question which I hope serves as example. It's about music, not poetry. Can a music reviewer write as much about a Pete Seeger folk song as she could write about Schubert lieder (or weird Chinese opera). Even with the Beach Boys' sophisticated harmonies or Laura Nyro's rhythms, are either as rich for mining by a critic as a song by Billy Strayhorn or Satie?

By which I mean: Is it plausible (and this is a question) that some forms of poetry and other of the arts have more reviewable type components. NO WAY am I saying one form of music (and by extrapolation, poetry) is "higher" on the food chain than the other. I was smothered in classical in my childhood (though, oddly, rock, jazz, soul, funk were not disallowed). Sometime in my late thirties I had a huge realization: Classical was not top of the food chain.

That was a big moment for me, especially as I hadn't been able to listen to much classical (short of chant, chamber music, art songs and some relatively modern French composers) for years. You'd have thought my parents waterboarded myself and my sisters while singing (Mom was a soprano) praises of the old boys.

(I realize you might not have thought waterboarded back then, but you could have considered a drip water torture or electric shock or the like.)

A review or critical analysis can open something up. Last Friday I mentioned on this here blog that I was going to hear local poet Michael Graves give a lecture on James Wright's  Shall We Gather at the River. It was a completely worthwhile evening and much in the book opened up (that phrase again).

A jump rather than a conclusion: I would like performance poetry to be opened, more. Go ahead, critics. Teach.


  1. Does slam poetry want critique? I would be interested to hear slam poets slamming bad slam poetry. What standards would they use? What authorities would they cite? What idols would they worship?


  2. I never answered this. I'd ask Victor Infante.