Posts Tagged ‘contemporary poetry’

We got the soul!

Posted: August 3, 2011 in Events
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        Aside from taking place smack-dab in the middle of a heat wave, it was a spectacular day at Veteran’s Park in Bayville, NJ for the first annual Soulsational Music & Wellness Festival, which according to its website, aims to “increase green, holistic, organic, healthy, and healing awareness in our community, build the local economy and offer to all those involved an experience like no other.” Squelch your inner Cartman a moment and think of it as a Lollapalooza with exclusively local artists and organization(s).

There were three stages for the “music” component: one for headlining musical acts, one for acoustic musical acts, and one for poetry. The latter was organized and emceed by the infamous Chris Rockwell (pictured), whose clothing company, Karma Cartel, had a booth just off to the side. The poetry tent sat atop a hill opposite and slightly askew from the main stage (not to mention sorrowfully far from the “organic beer garden”). Though each stage was located against opposite park borders, the power of the main stage’s sound system and general proximity to the poetry stage meant poets had to either ignore or work with the bleed. But poets are adaptable creatures, and by-and-large the performers either got into the groove at hand (which led to some amazing style melds) or made jokes and danced/shrugged it off. The only arrhythmic instances came during announcements, when the shear amperage of the main stage overcame that of the poetry stage, but since the former was actually promoting the latter, all was well.

Featured performers at the poetry tent included members of Loser Slam, The Idiom poets, and several others (including myself). The three sets, each comprised of mixed company from the above-listed groups, were arranged such that the styles of the individual poets were consistently fresh and complementary throughout the 11am to ~6:30pm schedule (with decent breaks in-between to hydrate, munch, get a massage, etc.). While the first set started out with poets reading to poets, attendees eventually wandered over to the secluded stage throughout the festival and squatted along with us to enjoy words on a sunny summer’s day. By the end, there was a lovely little troupe of engaged listeners applauding eagerly.  Regardless of attendance levels, all the presenting poets gave their utmost to the mic and laid their souls bare.  If you missed this wonderful event, you should check out the poets in their natural habitats at The Annex in Asbury Park, NJ; The Inkwell in Long Branch, NJ; or their respective web homes. To check out pictures of all the presenting poets (except me) at the festival as well as shots of the grounds, click here!

A poet once admitted to me, rather enthusiastically, “If you wanna impress me, shoot me a really good one-liner” (or something to that effect). If guitar riffs are considered hooks in music, why shouldn’t poetry have something similar? Stand-out lines are easily memorable, thus randomly quotable, and inevitably the way people can inspire readership of verse. But when a one-liner is all that defines a poem, can that piece of writing really be considered poetry? Is the zinger all contemporary poetry has to offer?

I’ve spent many a night in myriad venues listening to poets rattle off line after dizzying line of … lines: thoughts that, in and of themselves, were admittedly impressive but that, when meditated upon given the greater context of the poem, seemed more like a stand-alone, audible rhyming dictionary with ADD than anything designed to be a part of something larger than itself. Originally I blamed this disconnect on my own inability to fully absorb the spoken word, especially in rapid-fire succession as is in vogue. If I couldn’t remember all the lines clearly, how was I supposed to connect the disconnects throughout a 3-minute long piece in any meaningful fashion as to reap the intended effect of the poem? However, friends and I have bought books by such poets (whom we were fans/fond of) and been, on average, drastically disappointed in what was lost from mic to page.

I’m not debating the quality of said one-liners; they stand out and on their own for a reason. But most one-liners I hear delivered from the stage seem to be nothing more than self-celebrating linguistic exercises so crammed with thought that they don’t really need to be part of anything else and probably shouldn’t; the author just couldn’t let go. The problem is an odd combination of not knowing when to stop and stopping too frequently. Poems comprised of one-liners often seem a collage of disparate thoughts and ill-aligned images incompetently thrown together in favor of length or stream of thought or simply “because.” It is this lack of control that defeats the purpose of a poem, which is supposed to exhibit more discipline than any other form of writing.

What such potent one-liners should be is built upon. Authors should explore all that line can lead to and make sure its essence and related imagery continue throughout the poem. This is what is known as extended metaphor, which is quickly and sadly becoming a lost art. A crafty poet (that is to say, a poet) should be able to find enough material within a single image to evoke any particular feeling. I do not argue the effectiveness of disconnected and abrasively juxtaposed images, but they must be used for a reason greater than themselves and shock value. A good line might catch the attention of individual audience members, and a series of good lines might keep their focus, but even a series of great lines does not necessarily a solid poem make.