Beyond Slam

I had the good fortune to meet a man named Lytle Shaw,

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who is coincidentally an English professor at NYU, at an after party for some poets who had performed at the Bowery Poetry Club last Saturday. I was there to interview a poet named Rob Fitterman, but Lytle ended up doing much of the talking. Its wonderful that you can randomly meet such fascinating people in this city. I won’t talk about Lytle’s accomplishments as a poet. you can read some of his stuff here. More important for me was the new direction he, and the whole party group that night, got me thinking in. Here is a transcribed excerpt from that interview:

Me: Do you think any professional poets are down on slams?

Lytle: yeah, of course. Somebody’s down on everything.

Me: But do you think it’s a pretty widespread feeling among professional poets?

Lytle: Conversations like this have happened because of all the attention that’s been paid to slams. They always come up as the one form of popular poetry and everybody feels anxious about that, because that’s the extent of the so-called “public’s” engagement with poetry, and it’s not very much of an engagement. So they feel called upon to reflect on something that they may not even themselves be very concerned about. Like I don’t think that people that read in the Segue Series are thinking very much about Slam poetry. It’s not a major frame of reference for them. They’re thinking about modernism, they’re thinking about the history of poetry outside of performance poetics in the last thirty years. So its great that they were able to make a certain version of delivered, performed poetics popular, but it should not come to stand for the whole history of poetry.

This may not illustrate the extent of what I learned from those men and women that night, which is this – I’m not particularly over-concerned with slam poetry either. One point that was repeatedly made that night is that slam poetry is too often about identity, or self-expression, and this can only go so far. Its not fair to say that all of performance poetry is this way, but slam is just one form of performance, contained in a competitive format. Slam increasingly seems like a sort of entry-level poetics. I’m looking for more than that, something beyond slam yet not antiquated or inaccessible. Not just what is compelling to me, but a sophisticated performance poetic subculture, a new genre. ***************************

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