Sunday, August 17, 2008

Adversity in Verse

She calls up the first poet from the Nuyorican team, a Falstaffian man called Jamal St John, who begins by announcing in a friendly, childlike voice that his “queens are queen-sized”. He yearns for “the beauty of the black female body…before they asked you to do Pilates.” With the audience on its feet and smiles on every face, he finishes the poem where he started it, exclaiming, “Real women have curves!” After a flurry of clapping, hollering and high scores, Ms Browne retakes the stage and implores “all the big girls to stand up!” They oblige exuberantly.

And yet the slam takes on many other shapes and forms. Jeanann Verlee is a short, serious, generously tattooed Irishwoman, who describes her day job as “an office manager in a corporate environment” and when asked to elaborate, simply giggles. She stands up and waits for the crowd to hush. She reads a sobering piece from the point of view of Charles Chapman, a man who was wrongly accused of rape and subsequently held in prison for years. Speaking on his behalf to his accusers, she coldly points to the floor and utters slowly “There is no resurrection here”.
The enthusiastic poetry slammers among you (and yes, there are quite a few now that we have slam here in KL) will enjoy this account from the Economist of a slam held at the Nuyorican in, of course, New York, prior to the National Poetry Slam. (You can read more about the slam and how it developed here.)

The article was forwarded to me by Datuk Shan, who isn't adverse to a little slamming himself.

Postscript (21/8/08):
Is it an overstatement to describe this as the most exciting time for literature since the 1970s? Possibly. But there are certainly more opportunities now for writers to connect with audiences in performances, as well as through new technologies.
Just thought I'd append a link to an interesting post about live literature in London by Shirley Dent on the Guardian blog.

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