This week is the National Poetry Slam in St. Louis MO. I love the slam, and everytime August comes along, I miss it more. This year though is a little strange. My man from DC, Patrick Washington gave me a call to fill me in on the haps. Patrick, AKA Black Picasso, is an emcee, an incredible rapper, and a very impressive poet. I think these are too separate artforms. They are related but separate. Pic is a good emcee because he's got skills, he's a good poet cause he got the skills. I would be a terrible emcee because i don't have rappin' skills. Most people fall in my category just cause you can rock the mic at a poetry event doesn't mean you can rock with the emcee's. And the same goes for Rappers (they seem to think they can be poets more then the other way around.)
So, Pat's telling me how bad things are in St. Louis. I've never been to the city to perform or anything of the sorts, but from what he's saying the audience is just not there for a Nationals. I've had my beef with each of the Nationals I've been to, but all of them have had incredible crowds. This one seems to be pretty skeletal. All of this brings up a couple thoughts.
1) I miss the hell out the people I started slamming with. People like Phil West, Mike Henry, Regie Gibson, DJ Renegade, Taylor Mali, Ben Porter Lewis. Great people, incredible poets, and good times. I miss them like a mutherphuka! So I am going to make it my mission to reconnect with as many of them as possible. They have all given me so much in my life as a performer. I'm sure by now most of them, have moved on and don't really remember me, but, what the hell.
2) WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THE SLAM? I looked on the website, (which by far is the whackest website for Nationals), and read the list of poets competeting. And it looks like a list of has-been-rappers! All these whack ass names! WHY DOES A POET NEED A STAGE NAME? Why are we "spiting" poems? What the hell are they thinking? Then I remember what they are thinking, because I thought the same thing when I entered the slam.
I was coming from Jacksonville a city that had no team, hell there were no teams in Florida at the time. Back then I was a flight attendant for American Airlines and I could fly anywhere for free. This gave me the ability to go to slams at the drop of a dime. When I first heard about the slam it was in 96' when Mouth Almight released the CD from the 94' slam in San Fran. I loved that CD and still own it today. The CD had all these poets with synonyms,flashy names like the Invisible Man,and others. At the time I was looking for the flash so I listened these people non stop. I never NEVER listened to the people with regular names, I mean how good could you be if your name was just Patricia Smith? Then one day I was washing the dishes and the cd just played. The poem was "Undertaker". It was the most amazing thing I'd ever heard. And it was by this lady name Patricia Smith. I will never forget how stupid I was. I felt like the biblical Paul who'd been blind, until the scales fell from his eyes. Just like that I got it. It's not about Flashy names, or assumed idenities, but the work. the words. the heart and soul. This is one the one thing I thought poetry had on hip-hoppers. We speak the truth, or at least we should. Michael Harper said "the job of the poet is to tell the truth" and that truth, the personal truth is what should drive us.
So now the next frame of thought is, how did so many poets collectively not learn that lesson? The answer? Poets like me.
Poets like me who love the slam, but eventually left for whatever reason. Because if Patricia had left before I got in, I never would have known. If Regie Gibson had moved on, how would I have learned? They passed that scaredness of the slam to me, and I have left it on the counter. I can not be mad at who ever picked it up. I should have seen it coming before I left. New poets coming into the slam who cared nothing about the tradition, couldn't tell you who Marc Smith was, didn't care about the shoulders upon which they stood. It upset me, but ultimately, what could I do? So I left, following other paths.
I look at the Slam now, like an old girl friend, one that you have a lot of love for, but everytime you see her, she looks worse that she did the time before. I want to hold her, help her, talk to her about our previous lives. But her eyes are hollow now, and when she looks at me there is no recognition in her face.