Before I Forget...

The Svelte Ms. Spelt brought me back a pin from NPS 2011. It says "Fucking Apply Yourself". He told me Rachel McKibbens was handing these out. Wise words from the matriarch. I try to live by them every day. Here's how I applied myself in 2011:
  • Launched Hullabaloo: The BC High School Slam Championships along with my festival co-director, RC Weslowski, (aka monkeypudding). We had 13 school teams directly involved and another 5 participated in a prelim bout in Victoria. We arranged collaborations and sponsorships with the Vancouver Art Gallery, DOXA, and The Cultch. These established players on the arts scene gave our upstart project credibility, which led to...
  • Wrote applications that helped raise $35,000 for Hullabaloo and WordPlay, the poetry in schools program that I coordinate. Big ups to Lisa Slater (aka succulentpoet) for help with these, especially the big donation from Telus.
  • Doubled WordPlay for the second straight year in terms of workshops conducted, revenue generated, and poets paid.
  • Conducted dozens of interviews with past and present Van Slammers and collected boxes of archival materials in order to produce "Inkslingers & Linguaphiles: Celebrating 15 Years of Van Slam 1996–2001".
  • Then kept interviewing and collecting ephemera, and after 18 months of total research (including part one), wrote the second part "Turning Vancouver on its Ear: Celebrating 15 Years of Van Slam 2002–2011".
  • Worked on the organizing committee of the inaugural Vancouver International Poetry Festival.
  • Won* the Vancouver Individual Slam Playoff for the first time. Repped Van Slam in Cleveland at IWPS.
  • Published poems in PRISM international and CV2.
  • Moderated the panel on Spoken Word at Vancouver 125 Poetry Conference.
  • Performed eight poetry feature sets in Vancouver and Victoria, as well as countless variety / cabaret show type deals.
  • Performed as a festival headliner and the only spoken word artist at the Kispiox Music Valley Festival, in large part due to the organizational awesomeness of magpieulysses.
  • Participant in the panel discussion “The Experimental, Traditional and Spoken Word: What is the Future of Poetics?” at the Summer Dreams Festival, also did a feature set.
  • Collaborated with Alla Shiskov, Chris Masson and Barbara Adler to form Turtleneck and staged a completely absurd piece of Spoken Weird in collaboration with Sweater Vest (which that night was composed of RC Weslowski solo).
  • Facilitated the creation of 35 animated short films with school groups at the Museum of Vancouver as part of the Animating History program.
There's more to say, but 2012 is even busier, and besides, glances in the rear view mirror should always be brief.

On IWPS Playoffs

Last night was Van Slam's Indies Playoffs to determine who reps us at the Individual World Poetry Slam in Cleveland this October and the Canadian Indies right here in Vancouver next April. I thought it could quickly turn into a coronation for much-loved superpoet and Van Slam legend monkeypudding, but because of a somewhat weird change in the scoring rules (which I had nothing to do with), I ended up winning. Not that I didn't kick ass, I did, but the outcome was, let's say, complicated.

You see, for the past two years, Van Slam has had 10 poets qualify for the Indies Playoffs. Then there's four rounds: 1-minute, 3-minute, 4-minute, 2-minute with the lowest-scoring two poets eliminated each round. That means 4 poets in the final 2-minute round. Up until this year, it has always been scored cumulatively, which has the advantage of giving weight to all your poems in the final decision, but the disadvantage that the competition is usually over and out-of-reach by the last round.

This year it was announced to the poets at the bout that we would be working with a clean slate each round, and that the winner of the 2-minute round would be the champion. I have no problem with the format change, but the fact that the change wasn't communicated to the poets until they arrived at the bout pisses me off mightily. Rule and format changes should never come as surprises. You gotta give poets fair warning.

So, would I have won if it had been scored cumulatively (as originally advertised)? Nope, I would have lost to RC Weslowski by 0.1. I spoke to RC about this. He has a tour of Ontario already planned for October and squeezing in IWPS would have been tricky, so he's fine with it. He's also a very Zen dude, and not one to let something like this annoy him. Still, not sure I could be so accepting in his place.

Anyway, scoring controversary aside, it was a great bout, and all the poets were rocking the stage. I had a great time busting out my new favourite piece "Noise Complaint" in which I re-enact calling in a lack-of-noise complaint to City Hall (which I actually did). It's one of the few pieces where I feel I'm no longer doing poetry, I'm doing spoken word. It doesn't even vaguely resemble lyrical page poetry. It's a rant in the form of a one-sided telephone conversation. I was explaining all this to the outrageously-talented Lucia Misch after she had said something nice about it, and we started talking about the literary and oral traditions and how everyone seems to aim for that part of the Venn diagram where the two overlap, and how maybe that's a bit limiting. "Yeah, enough of this bisexual poetry" Misch said in jest, "Make up your mind already!" which is one of the damned funniest things I've heard in a long time.

Looking forward to Cleveland and messing with heads in the grand tradition of Van Slam trickerism!

Stephen Merritt for the win!

Pitchfork: You've spoken a lot about the importance of new technology in pushing music forward. Do you think that new technologies might actually revitalize song craft, by necessitating new techniques of writing and production?

Merritt: Well, I'm still waiting for the lyric generator.

Pitchfork: There are text machines, but they're not very well-oiled.

Merritt: The good lyric generator. I can imagine lyrics becoming better written by smart machines rather than stupid musicians. Songwriters generally have nothing to say. They may as well be replaced by machines.

30 Helens of Troy Agree

30 Helens of Troy agree
beautiful women are 
They possess 
indisputable lips
irrefutable hips
and skin that 
like a victory lap

Thirty thousand Greeks and Trojans agree 
on how to hunt for honour
They chase down their Helens
lay siege for their Helens
They polish their bronze breastplates
in Helen's name

If there's one thing
they know 
it's that 
beautiful women are beautiful

The less 
they are certain 
of anything 
the faster
they slaughter
each other

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

~Langston Hughes

New Word Needed

I've identified a lexical gap in the English language, and I need your help to bridge it.

Fill in your suggestion to the linguistic equation below, if there are enough good answers, I'll put together a poll and we'll vote in a winner.

A lack of literacy is illiteracy.

A lack of orality is ....

My recent focus on these two terms comes from reading Walter Ong's Orality & Literacy this summer, a book recommended to me by Jack McCarthy and Bob Holman independently of each other.

Orality is the practice of the oral tradition. All spoken word poets are well-versed in orality. Some page poets are too, but many are... unoral? ... mute? My suggestions don't quite work. I bet you have something better in mind. Let's hear it.


I’m standing beside the ocean
trying not to check my email.

I’m sitting in an airplane
looking down at the tops of clouds
trying not to check my email.

I’m being lowered into my grave,
arms pinned to my sides,
eyelids sewn shut,
trying not to obsess
over who might
or might not
have responded
to this message.

Stephen Fry on The History of Light Verse

Light verse does not need to be comic in intent or witty in nature: it encourages the readers to believe that they and the poet share the same discourse, intelligence and standing, inhabit the same universe of feeling and cultural reference, it does not howl in misunderstood loneliness, wallow in romantic agony or bombard the reader with learning and allusion from a Parnassian or abstrusely academic height. This kind of poetry, Auden argues in his introduction to The Oxford Book of Light Verse, was mainstream until the arrival of the romantics. With the exception of sacred verse, Miltonic epics, drama and the more complex metaphysical poems of the seventeenth century almost all poetry was, more or less light. It was adult, it could be moving, angry, erotic and even religious, but it was digestible, it was not embarrassed by the idea of likeability or accessibility. A poem could be admired because it was prettily made and charming to read, Mozartian qualities if you like. Modernism appeared to drive lightness out of poetry for ever… In the knowledge that Gravity will destroy us in the end, perhaps Levity is not so trivial a response.

from his book The Ode Less Travelled