DEF POETRY JAM
So the phone call comes today that I have been accepted to take part in Russle Simmon’s Def Poetry Jam. DPJ films at the Supper Club in NYC and airs on HBO. When I got the phone call it was filled with joy and some hesitation. First my history with Def Poetry.
1) I was picked to film Def Poetry during the second season. About two years ago. It was an incredible experience. I was treated with the utmost respect, and I had a wonderful time in New York. After performing for a packed audience and feeling like I rocked it. I went home feeling really good about the whole experience. I didn’t tell anyone because I wasn’t sure if the spot would air or not. See, you film with them but there is no guarantee that they will air your spot. Weeks later I got the call that I had made the taping. There were pictures on the internet of my performance. BET was running clips of me, I began to tell all my friends everything was going good. And then my air date came and went and there was no sign of Al Letson. Somehow despite the assurances that I made the cut, my footage found it’s way to the cutting room floor, and I never aired.
This was my first lesson in TV. It hurt like hell, I wanted to be on the show so bad, then not making it made me want to weep. I was so mad at the people of DPJ. It took me a while to except the experience for what it was. I had such a great time. I got to meet several of my favorite artist, and most importantly, I got paid. The staff of the show are great people. I have a lot of respect for all of them, and now with some distance between that pain, and the present, I know my getting cut was not an intentional malicious thing. It’s TV, it’s showbiz, and if you take that kind of stuff personal it will kill you. On a whole it was a great thing career-wise for me, I’ve been hesitant to talk about it, or even put in on my resume, In my bio it says I took part in DPJ, which is true. But not airing has always been somewhat of a sore spot.
2) My problems with DPJ. I think the show is okay. I’m watching my artform being used in ways that I’m not all that comfortable with ie: McDonald’s commercials, and other aspects of “using” poetry to sell products. I’m just as guilty. So this whole argument is very duplicitous. I don’t like the commercialization of the artform, but at the same time, I take part in that commercialization, because I am a working artist with a family and when the offers come, at times I don’t have the luxury to say no. DPJ has without a doubt made spoken word more popular and that’s for the favor and determent of the art. I know it’s TV so I understand they have certain demographs they are trying to hit, but sometimes, I don’t get the poets they choose. At this point I must admit I am an elitist. I know what kind of poetry I like. Well thought out, complex pieces, that speak to a universal truth. I don’t like performance poems that cater to the lowest common denominator in the human existence. I don’t like poems with a lot of rhyme scheme. I don’t like pieces that should be rap instead of performance poetry. I don’t like pieces that are all performance and no writing. I see all of this on DPJ a lot, and it bothers me. On the other side, I’ve seen several great performances. Watched poets own the stage, the audience, and reached out and grabbed the Television viewer and made them apart of the poem.
3) I want this. I want this for the validation that I shouldn’t need. I know I’ve done things that most of my contemporaries, haven’t even thought of. I’m creating, moving out of the box. I’ve been on International TV, I’ve got three plays in production in any given year, and yet, until I air a two minute HBO spot, I will feel like there is something left undone. I’ve had counseling sessions with myself on it, and no matter what I still come back to the same thing. With that in mind, I sent off a package a couple weeks ago, and the result is the opportunity to come back to DPJ and finish what I started two years ago.
New Rules this time out. I’m not hiding the fact I taped. I don’t care. If I get cut again, then so be it, but I’m going to have a good time, and let people know what I’m doing. I’m not going to get crazy about it. If it airs cool, if not cool. Many poets who film DPJ for the first time, have a hard time understanding that this 15 minutes of fame will not change your life. It’s a great thing, and good for exposure, plus they pay you, but ultimately, your life will not change from airing on HBO. So it’s important to keep it in perspective. I will remember it TV which means it’s not real. My family is real. My faith is real. My words are real. But this venue is not. It’s a good thing, and I thank God for the opportunity, but it is not the only thing.