Sunday, April 27, 2008

Slammin' the Slammin'

One dark dark picture which if you squint at carefully, you can see the faint outline of performance poet Jacob Sam-La Rose. (The rest of my photos of last night's Green Slam at the Loft, Zouk are so crappy that I'm not even considering putting them up! My little camera doesn't like low light conditions.)

It was really nice to hear Jacob again and revisit some of the poems that had really touched me the last time he was here.

George Wielgus was also on very good form as the mighty Jah-J (his piece about how hard it is to slam and challenging the audience to come up if they thought they could do it better was excellent) and I enjoyed hearing Singaporean poet Pooja Nansi again. Her poem about Singapore was especially good. (But I am so sad I missed Reza Rosli because I left before he read.)

In the first round, I liked Kathleen Choo's poem about dead white poets the best. But I was disappointed overall that so little was made of the night's theme which seems to me to offer a great many possibilities.

I was a bit upset with myself because I wanted to click off the more embarrassing offerings (joining in the spirit of the thing!) I found my fingers just don't make a sound. The carpet muffled any sound of stamping. (Just as well because the rest of the audience were a much politer lot.)

There were some things that annoyed me. I thought it was against the rules to sing? (Though a couple of people did.) It also bothers me a bit that a fakey American accent seems de rigeur. Be yourselves guys, use your own voices!

There were some very nice poems, well delivered, and it makes me very happy to see how well the poets who have been working at performance poetry for some time are developing. It was great to pick up some of the chapbooks produced too.

I only stayed until the second round of the slam because ... (and here I'm going to do a gestapo-like rant for a minute, if you'll excuse me) I do not think my body should be breathing clouds of second-hand cigarette smoke, and because I object to having to go away smelling like an unemptied ashtray when I came into it smelling of L'Occitane Lavender (had you got close enough to notice).

This is one area where (and I hate to admit this) I think Singapore has it right!!!!!!

Well done though to Chris Mooney-Singh and Savinder of Word Forward, and Daphne Lee who made this happen and provide an invaluable space in which poets can learn and grow. We look forward to news of the next slam.

Postscript :

I've nicked Reza's recording of Jacob's performance. (Sorry - I don't know how to stop the video continually replaying itself. I just turn the sound off now that I know the poems off by heart.)


Cat R. said...

I put on my (disinterested) academic-in-training robe and hat!

Like the first generation of Malaysian/Singaporean poets (Ee Tiang Hong, Phui Nam, etc.) who copied modernist writers like Eliot and company embarassingly during their early days, local performance poetry, being at its infancy, ends up borrowing a lot of conventions from traditions that came from outside: the West, particularly. Reggae, hip hop, and blues-and-jazz aren't really part of the usual canon of 'dead white male poets' who ended up being emulated by our local poetry predecessors, but they are part of a culture rooted in the West and they form a large body of musical influences on performance poetry both in Britain and in the States.

It's not surprising that Malaysian performance poets start by following in the same direction. Quite a number of the slammers competing that night openly confessed to having musical influences (in particular hip hop, blues and reggae).

Sure, local ground has a strong oral tradition, but there's no way one can burst into syair in a slam without getting really odd stares (well, not at this point -- please someone, prove me wrong!). This is the way I see it (I won't say that I'm speaking for others): right now, Malaysian poets are learning to transfer the poem from the page to the stage, and they're struggling as much to find their own personal voices along with their communal ones. In time, and with more poets coming into the scene, I expect plenty more seeping of local colour, in the ways our predecessors like Phui Nam et al. learned how to create poetry with a very specific Southeast Asian identity.

bibliobibuli said...

good answer, Catr. you're probably right, it is a matter of time. we'll see a year or two down the line when slam here has had time to evolve.

maybe there's a challenge in here for a later slam?

i worry that there has been a drift away from our young poets' natural voices to something imported and unnatural ...

there's plenty to be learned here from malika booker, jacob, chris ... performance poets who haven't had to borrow a jacket from the hip hoppers and rappers, who still sound authentically like themselves

i exempt han though, since he studied in canada and is entitled to his north american accent!

Madcap Machinist said...

i think plastic clickers should be given out at the doors.

Cat R. said...

I'd love to see a 'local colour' slam myself. I think that pantuns are very good local forms of poetry that might survive a slam environment -- and best of all, they're easy to memorize!

bibliobibuli said...

agree. it would be fun to have a membalas (?) pantun competition with the pantuns composed on the spot. maybe we could organise one? it would work fine in english or in malay

bibliobibuli said...

machinist - yes, plastic clickers would be great. then i wouldn't feel such an abject failure. wonder if a football rattle would be pushing things too far?

Cat R. said...

Membalas pantun is right :)

Madcap Machinist said...

View a video of Jacob's performance (and more, soon) here.

Baronhawk said...

Apologies in advance, this is going to be a long one! I am going to get on my high horse now and step unto my soap box. Excuse me mind you but I have had it with people expecting all Malaysian English voices to sound well "Malay","Chinese" or "Indian". I cannot speak for others but I can certainly speak for myself!

Though in the first place I do agree with you that a lot of our current youths are aping the sounds and voices of distant lands. The students returning from a mere two to four years overseas with such, as you called it, "fakey" accent. The Malaysian born, Alabama drawls, Texas accent and Upper CLass London Queen's English polish. The businessman and diplomats who after only a few trips overseas sounded just like foreigners upon arrival back to the motherland. Such fakers, off with their heads! I would agree. But what of those who are a product of Malaysia's rich cultural heritage?

I might not speak in Manglish but I am certainly no less Malaysian for my voice and word choice were developed in situ, upon this great land of ours. As I said it to Jacob's face himself and indeed I shall say it here to anyone else's for that matter and at this juncture; "I write the way I speak and I speak the way I write." Is it my fault that growing up there were not many people that I can speak English to for it is at one time (and maybe in some places still is) anathema to speak in English. Leaving me to speak English with kids born overseas, the odd friends from KL as well as the children of Australian Airmen stationed at the Butterworth Airbase? Hence my unMalay sounding voice and weird word choices. Is it my fault that there were no Malay documentaries on subjects my young mind yearns to learn? The only ones available being BBC, Transtel and National Geographic specials? Is it my fault that the Malay translations of those programs that do exist (and yea even unto this day) for the most part are in most cases comparable to a near crap like state? Is it my fault that I grew up in a country that idolizes the colonial language more than its own? I can speak in "pantun" or belt out a "syair", indeed I speak Malay with a decidedly northern accent. I also make it a point to read "Hikayat Hang Tuah" "Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa" "Sejarah Melayu" and other Malay classics in their original form since I am studying Shakespeare, Homer and Tolkien, I must to be fair also read of Tun Sri Lanang and the lot. But if I speak English I sound as I do and I am as I am. It is not aped nor put on. My two years in the states for my studies did not form it but years of Rosemary Sutcliffe's tales of Roman Britain, Enid Blyton's massive volumes of works from Malaysian school and district libraries, "Yes Prime Minister" "Avengers" and "Hardcastle & McCormick" on Malaysian television. Not too mention the many books in English that either answers my young questions or I find interesting. There were not that many modern Malaysian books during my younger days that I admired except for "Jalan Keretapi Maut" " Leftenen Adnan" "Kanang, Cerita seorang Pahlawan" and the Artakusiad Saga by Ahmad Patria Abdullah, the only notable Malay work of fantasy fiction of note in my young experience. The only memorable Malay television series being Wazata Zain's "Cumi dan Ciki", "Jamali Shahdat's "Parlimen Kanak-Kanak" until the coming of Yusoff Haslam's racy offerings in "Remang-Remang Kota Raya", "Debu-Debu Kota Raya" and "Harimau Rimba" and the most exciting Malaysian TV program in English "The Adventures of Bing and Bong" from the TV Pendidikan series.

But in digest and to summarized some of us develop our voices exclusively on Malaysian soil and created our rich vocabulary upon the sounds and sights of good old Malaysia. Just because we don't sound Malaysian should not be made a yardstick to exclude us from being considered a locally developed talent. Consider the forces that shape Malaysia, the extremely powerful call of overseas influence aped by us or put upon by the strong currents of colonialism or American consumerism. McDonald's anyone, or Levi's Jeans? Malaysia is a multi-cultural land with multi-cultural links from its deep past, colonial times and rampant global commercialization. While we seek our roots, maybe it is also acceptable to accept that sometimes we develop many offshoots to our Malaysian cultural and artistic heritage.

Salman Khan said...

You know, they could have picked the accent up from television or something, I mean, we've been exposed to Western entertainment for... I dunno, a lifetime? Out of place accents only bother me when the english is bad.

Madcap Machinist said...

Does not matter how it sounds like, if a voice fails to communicate it may as well not be heard.

Cat R. said...

Hazlan: you're not alone; when the first generation (circa 50s - 60s) of Malaysian-Singaporean poets like Ee Tiang Hong, Muhammad Hj. Salleh and Wong Phui Nam wrote in English, they were laughed at for seeming to appearing 'faking English'. I remember that -- I think it was Wong Phui Nam -- who said that some of their professors, who were from overseas, outright discouraged them from writing in English; the very idea of someone of a formerly colonized land writing in the language of the colonizers (as it was seen back then) was outrageous. To make things worse, especially in Malaysia, the national language policy meant that anyone who did not write in Malay was not writing national literature, and writers in English were shoved to the side for decades.

It made them feel terribly isolated both from the English-speaking world and their own local grounds. The politics of language commanded a lot of their discourse, and they had to consistently justify before their audience why they were writing in English. Their reason was very simple: English was their language as natural as any native language prescribed upon them, and, as you put it very nicely, developed their Englishness "exclusively on Malaysian soil and created our rich vocabulary upon the sounds and sights of good old Malaysia".

There is not much stigma to writing in English now -- looking at Pak Samad's website it seems to me that there seems to be more problems hitting Malay literature -- but now that local poets are experimenting with and breaking into expressing themselves orally via live literature, I predict that more questions about that 'natural voice' (and this time, quite literal) will continually emerge. WHICH IS GREAT. :)

Anonymous said...

Having not attended the event, I can't really comment much on the 'fake' accents but hey, give Sharon some credit - there are accents and then there are fake bad accents!

The latter just screams from a mile away. The overly emphasized american or brit accent in today's youngsters who have lived all of their lives in our country. I don't think she's saying that you have to sound Malay or Chinese or whatever, but what's the deal of trying to sound too much like MTV?

Anonymous said...

"if a voice fails to communicate it may as well not be heard."

Aren't we glad Anne Frank didn't follow this.

Chet said...

cat r - when I started reading your comment, I thought you were going to say Ee Tiang Hong, Muhammad Hj. Salleh and Wong Phui Nam were accused of putting on a fake accent when they spoke, but actually, they were accused of writing in English. Phew ...

Salman Khan - you're right that we can pick up another accent from too much Western entertainment. I grew up watching lots of American TV and a little British TV (I wasn't being picky, Malaysian TV programming in those days preferred American to British). When I went to England to study, I was asked if I was American (that was the polite version; the un-polite version was that someone accused me, behind my back, of faking the American accent, which I heard the tail-end of as I came back into the room). Then, three years later, when I went on to the States, one of my new American friends said "Oh, I just love your British accent." So which is it for me?

I think I picked up some nuances of both languages during those years of American and British TV shows which occasionally peeped through, and depending who was listening to me, would sound either British or American to them.

But I do know I sometimes put on an accent just so I could be understood. I was conscious of this happening when I went to Manila and heard myself starting to sound like a Filipino. But this was after I got tired of repeating myself and decided to try and sound like them, after which I wasn't asked to repeat myself.

Here's a funny story, courtesy of Kam Raslan. He told of going to a local university to give a talk, and this Malaysian student, wearing a tudung, came up to ask him something, and according to him, she sounded completely Cockney. I asked him if maybe she affected the accent because she was talking to him. And he said no, he watched her talking to other people and she sounded exactly the same. Her Cockney accent sounded authentic, not faked.

Anonymous said...

What's the worst is not the accents, it's that they get it all wrong. Accent is fine even if it's fake but sounds natural. If you can put on a fake accent and sound natural why not ? whatever is a Malaysian accent anyway ?

Madcap Machinist said...

Here are some more videos from the slam:

George Wielgus a.k.a. Mighty Jah-J as the opening act.

Chris Mooney-Singh with his crowd-warming slam-poem "The Word Must Rock". I can see you really getting into it Sharon!

Han brought some strong poetry at the last slam, but this time as co-host performs Rhina Estaillat's "Weighing In" during the intermission.

Lainie's got other videos at her YouTube channel.

sneexe said...

Hello all :) Seems there's a nice little discussion going!

Can't speak for everyone, but as for myself, I can say- I think the Slam isn't necessarily the best place for us to "find our own local voices" -- not just yet anyway. (That'd be Underground's Guerrila Poetry work! Upcoming!)

(Although yes I did toy with the ideas of creating syair/sajak/pantun for Slam.)

This isn't just a question of the performing poets maturing- but also a question of the audience maturing. I can do something that is wholly and intensely me, but is the audience ready for it?

Perhaps not. A friend commented to me that the audience that night didn't seem ready for anything experimental yet.

I think it was a valid observation.

Note that in amongst the messages forming "Kill All The White Man, aka I'm Just a Green Girl" (yes apparently I was too nervous to remember to tell people the title) was that Slam is a kind of Lowest Common Denominator platform and shouldn't necessarily be confused with a literary appreciation exercise.

I take the view of Slam as an avenue to entertain & maybe convert some of the philistine public to a more open attitude towards poetry :)

That being the case, it's just an inroad, another avenue, one option to push Public Access Poetry.

Whether we have local voices or whatnot in Slams, the best benefit from the startup season would be to attract, involve and entertain the wider general public.

sneexe said...

Yuk. "whatnot" Did I really say, "Whatnot"?? horrible.

Madcap Machinist said...

"I can see you really getting into it Sharon!" -- errr.... in the original widescreen version, that is. You got cut off when I converted it for online viewing.

bibliobibuli said...

hehe i'm glad i stirred things up.

aiyah hazlan. the answer to that is just a simple


don't fake, don't put on. your words should be from your own heart and delivered in your own voice.

i wouldn't be so sure that an audience isn't ready for anything experimental yet, sneexe ... but then it depends on what that means in practice. i am very interested! i should come along to your subversive-versive meetings, shouldn't i? i love your passionate defence here, sneexe, and i can see that you guys have the spirit to make more happen.

thanks for the links, machinist, your video is so well recorded and it is lovely to have the chance to go back over this. i want a video camera now! we really need some recordings of readings@seksan

i notice that not one of you has said anything about the smoky atmosphere? would you think it too much of a violation of your poetic rights if the slam were a no smoking zone?

Madcap Machinist said...

I would like to do it at a different venue actually.

A pub isn't quite a pub without smoke, though I certainly respect non-smoker's rights; on a really packed night at the Loft even hardcore smokers start complaining about the smoke stinging their eyes.

Madcap Machinist said...


ideally at a poetry slam, if someone has a complaint she should come up and slam it down herself :-)

poetry is democracy in action.

bibliobibuli said...

maybe the ventilation is just really bad at the loft ...

i've also felt smoked out at no black tie but at least one can slip out behind the curtain and still hear what's happening

i've a tendency (in my dotage!) to bronchitis so try to stay out the way of smokers ... even at home!

bibliobibuli said...

if someone has a complaint she should come up and slam it down herself :-) hahaha

maybe ... oh maybe ...

Baronhawk said...

Dear Sharon,

As to your kindly advice of "Be Yourself! Be Authentic!". I think the members of Poetry Underground can vouch for me when I say, I do sound the way I write and I do speak in that archaic style. It is something that has already permeated and become a part of my psyche. I even think in English. Sometimes even in Shakespearean lines! What can I say when I speak it is always from the heart... I guess you need to know me to experience this strangeness. I don't go around spouting verses in public of course, in fact I consciously control my speech to be "normal". But at ease and amongst friends my true voice take shape and believe it or not it sounds in most cases just like the way I write... the prose if not the verse.

Those poems I wrote for my fellow poetry undergrounders??? Well those ARE from my heart...I might not sound Malaysian in them but what ever I pack into those arranged words are pieces of my heart and tid bits of my soul. And I wrote what I feel and in my own voice.

Though I guess the problem with me might be more with when I am reading them aloud in front of an audience, it might sound stilted and malformed by my nervousness. I don't know. Still things for me to ponder of course. I do have loads to learn, one thing I learned from my short time with Jacob and of course from our intermittent interludes. Which I do appreciate of course, both your advice and your experienced wisdom, its just that I am irked when people say that I don't speak in my own voice.

As to the idea of a new venue choice, I actually agree with you...I do hate the curtains of cigarette smoke that perforates my clothing and skin every time I am at places like Zouk. I do hate that smoky aroma that clings to me even when I am at home long after I have left Zouk. Worse still the lingering barbacue smell upon my clothing which takes over the laundry basket and at times the room! Thank god for Glade and AmbiPure!

Worse for me is the lingering sweet smell of wine or the sour odour of beer. Partly religious since Muslims are not actually allowed to be at ceremonies where liquor is served, comsi comsa on that, but more so by personal preference as my nose is somewhat sensitive to both the sweetness of wine and the sourness of beer. A BAD experience with a drunken friend vomiting in my old car(glad I sold it)... beer + wine + hard liquor at once??? what was he thinking!!!!

In fact we Undergrounders have been talking about asking WordForward to change the venue to a more poetry friendly place. So that other less inclined towards such places can come and experience our gregarious poeticness. Maybe you can start the ball rolling... though I guess in most cases alcohol is a part of the poetic process for some people that the new venue might have to cater to... but maybe there is an alliance of sorts between WordForward and Zouk that defines the SLAM experience? Somebody will have to sort that out I guess.

Madcap Machinist said...

Madame Bibs, in the silent spaces of your ellipsis I hear a brewing philippic against the mister at home. Come to the next P-You meet and let's workshop it! :D

bibliobibuli said...

baronhawk - it was my thoughts addressed to all in general, and even to all slammers and poets everywhere, not to you in particular. not at all. i applaud you newly found courage to get up and participate (though i don't like the thee's and thou's overmuch i must confess ... it sounds jarringly old fashioned)

bibliobibuli said...

machinist - the mister at home only smokes in one room, thank goodness.

aiyoh i've really set myself up!

Baronhawk said...

Dear Sharon,

I know, I do know dear lady, it is not your intent to pick or single out but perhaps to generally advice and educate. Its just that its a sensitive subject... after the hammering I got from Jacob...heh heh heh. By the way, you might be interested to read "Our Voice!" a sort of satire I wrote in honour of Jacob. Its in my Facebook notes. Supposed to read it at the SLAM... did not get the chance. You'd probably get a kick out of it.


The unMalaysian Voice

Chet said...

In most places, there are both smoking and non-smoking sections. Usually, the smoking section is smaller. (At IKEA Cafe, the smoking section is in a glass-enclosed room - maybe to help make smokers feel more conscious of what they're doing?)

Maybe for places that are predominantly patronised by smokers, they should have a non-smoking section?

Madcap Machinist said...

Yes in places like IKEA and airports they box smokers in tiny poorly ventilated rooms. What are they trying to pull? Help us kill ourselves faster?

What's wrong with giving us a nice airy outdoor space to smoke in, even if segregated from non-smokers. We like our fresh air too, it helps the backy burn better.

bibliobibuli said...

poor baronhawk - knew in advance that jacob would slam you for that! must say i liked your slam poem much better than the one you read at seksan - within a week you had grown as a poet ... visibly. i like the poem of facebook though best of all.

you are like a butterfly just emerging from the cocoon, wings still drying, so very delicate. but i know you have a great deal to offer and a lot of courage to take on board the feedback.

chet, machinist - actually at zouk it's pretty easy just to slip outside. but i love it when smokers get treated as social lepers! it makes abu mad as hell

Cat R. said...

I also want to see the venue changed.

Anonymous said...

dear sharon,

i love it too when smokers particularly in malaysia where it seems to be a god-given right, get treated as social lepers. god bless ikea and its like for its small smoking rooms. just a small taste on how it feels for a non-smoker in a bar, restaurant, etc... !!


Madcap Machinist said...

Remove these lines from the html code in the blogpost to stop the video from autoplaying:

1. <param name="flashvars" value="autoplay=t" />

which appears early in the code snippet, and

2. flashvars="autoplay=t

which appears towards the end.

There is always an option that lets you specify whether you want the video to autoplay or not when you are selecting the code to embed.

Madcap Machinist said...

By the way, those interested to know what happened at Jacob's writing workshop can read Baronhawk's point of view on PP.

The discussion above is very interesting, and I'd like to continue it at PP where we can keep it current.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks machinist. am learning!

also for link.

Madcap Machinist said...

no worries!

Anonymous said...

lol machinist, way to redirect traffic to your blog :)

bibliobibuli said...

anon - it's a shared blog so it's my blog as well!

Madcap Machinist said...

Well, the audience gets a bad review at Kakiseni...