Ten things I learned at the National Poetry Slam by katydid

 

A great piece by my friend katydid, a poet and not a slam poet.

[Please make sure you read all the way to
the end, because it has important qualifications to
the cynicism.]

Things I Learned at The Poetry Slam National Finals,
St. Louis, August 7 2004

1.  Usually, things were better when you were a kid.
(The standard exceptions include poverty, rape,
incest, abuse, discrimination, or cancer – other than
that things really were better, because you got to
have recess, freedom from the demands of conformity,
the demands of productivity, and you got relative
safety from harm without having to ask for it or work
for it, or even think about it.)

2.  Iambic meter is most effective when you “slam”
every stressed syllable.
As in… “to BE or NOT to BE”, &c.
(Is that why they call them “slams”?)

3.  There’s a lot of stuff to be poetically pissed off
about.  In the human condition, there’s really nothing
like joy worth mentioning, unless it involves sex with
people you trust.

4.  Poetry that expresses pride is good, but only if
that pride arises from either
a) surviving horrible things
b) being more aware than non-poets that other people
suffer

5.  In general, people are shallow.

6.  Middle-class people are especially shallow, and
especially the ones in suburbia, because they are
insulated by their own choice from the suffering of
others.

7.  Stuff you buy in malls or box stores is bad,
unless it’s the DVD player you got so that you can
play last year’s and this year’s Slam Championship
DVDs, (on sale over by the door).

8.  People like it when you shout.  This seems to be
because it most effectively demonstrates deep feeling
and also awakens deep feeling in other people.

9.  In addition to the atrocities mentioned above,
stereotypical instances of human brutality include
leaving babies in trash bags, war, and lynching.  If
these things are never brought to light in the company
of like-minded people, no one would ever notice nor
care, much less try to stop them from happening again.

10.  Stereotyping is bad, unless stereotypes are
poetically useful.

(That’s about it.  I actually was extremely moved by
many poems, and still feel their power today, as
nothing short of breathtaking.  But poetry doesn’t
have to be bitter, self-righteous, or loud to be
moving.  It just has to make me see the world in a way
that I have never seen it before, and make me desire
what is good, and shun what is bad – or just make me
marvel at the things – at the wonders – that human
beings can create, even staying within a three-minute
time limit.)

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First I run into a shrine of a German convent in the midst of the Bohemian alps….

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…then it’s straight into a David Lynch movie:

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The Untidy Season — Wild West Style

A couple of years ago my friend Charlene and I decided to drive to North Platte for an open mike. George Lauby has been running this mike since 2006 (he also edits The North Platte Bulletin, an alternative newspaper). A road trip always seems like a good idea to me. Charlene, on the other hand, is up for anything all the time — one of the many things I love about her.

We met George and a couple of his friends for dinner and went on to the open mike which was held at A to Z books, a beautiful expansive bookstore owned by Sharon Owen, a veteran bookseller for 30 years. (Think the old Antiquarium, only less dust.)

The open mike was lively and varied — guitarists, singers, and poets. The whole town seemed to have turned out! There’s coffee and tea. People bring snacks to share, chat and catch up between sets. The whole evening had a relaxed, homey feeling.

I had mentioned to George how disappointed I was the last time I came to North Platte and Buffalo Bill’s Scouts’ Rest Ranch was closed. “On a Saturday!” I complained. “When do they think tourists come to town?”

George made a phone call to his ranger friend who ran the ranch and instructed us to call him the next morning.

We stayed at the gracious and lovely Knolls B & B. It was comfortable and reasonable (“We raised six children here. Our home is a home.” the website states) and Mrs. Knoll had two breakfasts for us — one when we left at 7 and one when we returned at 10!

Ranger Randy was gracious, even though we woke him up. He gave us an extensive tour of the Ranch, including the house and environs. Now several of us are headed back to North Platte, this time with copies of The Untidy Season, an anthology of Nebraska women poets that I co-edited with Liz Kay, Sarah Mason, and Jennifer Lambert. I can’t wait!

north platte open mike

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At McFoster’s: People of Nebraska and Iowa

Left to right: Tonya, Brandon, and Phil aka Conga Mama, Dr Webb, and Maestro Phil

Left to right: Tonya, Brandon, and Phil aka Conga Mama, Dr Webb, and Maestro Phil

“I met Brandon when we were both in a band called Jackknife Suicide.”  Tonya says. She looks at Brandon. “I SAVED you from that band,” she adds, laughing. DSCF8861 And what about Phil? “Oh, we picked him up in the street.” Tonya says, grinning widely. Dr. Webb and Conga Mama, as they are known, can be heard ‘most every Tuesday from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. at Mc Foster’s Natural Kind Café, 302 South 38th St (38th and Farnam).

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People of Nebraska and Iowa

“I know everyone in this church. In fact, I’m related to most of them. Second and third cousins. She (points to the woman sitting next to her) and I are kissing cousins. That means that her dad and my mom were brother and sister.”

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“My dad helped build this church. Put on his button-ups and got his ladder out and put that roof up. My husband and I have been married 64 years.”

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–Charlotte, at the Ponca Hills St John’s Lutheran Church ice cream social.

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Anatomy of a move

After months of ditching a box or garbage bag of possessions each week, I had to move in a rather quick fashion. Oh, I could have stayed and fought it out– it’s what my neighbors decided to do–but it was taking a serious toll on my health. I was just holding on by my fingernails, and I could feel it.

My living area here is fresh with new paint and new carpet. It’s homier than my urban apartment. It’s light and airy. All the boxes are in the spare room. I made a count: 28 boxes, 4 plastic sealing tubs, and six satchels (“I don’t care how organized anyone is, at the last minute you’re still grabbing crap and throwing it into satchels” my sister Heather says.) Three bookshelves (one of which the movers broke). I left two behind because they were in junky condition. I gave three boxes of books to Bradley Johnson who will take them to Half Price after selecting the ones he wants.

The clothes, also weeded though, were brought over in handfuls and hung–that was an easier transiton. One dresser, which was clearly falling apart, was left behind, and my grandparent’s solid, plain (just like them) stuffed with clothes and moved intact by the movers.

How can one person amass so much in ten years?

As I moved I thought often of Dave Hufford’s poem regarding the Myth of the Souls in Hell, their eyes put out, who had to drag around for eternity all that they had amassed in Life.

“Don’t even put up pictures,” my aunt, who is what they used to call a  home-ec major in her day, advised. “Just enjoy the negative space.”

But “Coffee with Jesus”, a small painting by Jean Mason, will go up near the breakfast nook, and “Fallen Skater”, a pencil Hoover I love, is keeping the reception nook with the flare lamp company. The colors of the two  go together perfectly. I’ve hung my moon chimes and some other chime mobiles. But  pictures are mostly stacked against the walls,  waiting impatiently. The tall, six-tiered bookshelf will serve as a lovely rotating display for art and curios, as will the old, one-drawer table the landlady left behind. It’s sporting a bouquet fresh flowers in a china pitcher, a nice touch.

It’s still not home, and I’m reluctant to unpack more. Perhaps part of me thinks I’ll be forced to move again soon, flight-or-fight, still wounded from the last scraping off of the chambers of the heart. Or is it practicality exercised while waiting for the “perfect” condo/house that will invariably appear after months of diligent searching?

In either case, more movement is involved. Kind, well-meaaning people keep saying, “change is good,” and I’m sure it is. It’s also stressful, frustrating, and often heartbreaking. There’s a Yiddish saying that a new house means a new life. We’ll all hope for the best. It’s all we can do.

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