Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hard Poet, Soft Poet

Is Slam in Danger of Going Soft?
The New York Times, June 2, 2009

Yet Mr. Smith [the originator of the poetry slam] and his disciples still raise the hackles of what he refers to as “the academic poets,” on both sides of the cultural wars. Amiri Baraka, a Marxist who is known for his politically provocative poetry, has said, “I don’t have much use for them because they make the poetry a carnival” and “elevate it to commercial showiness, emphasizing the most backward elements.”

On the other side of the divide, Jonathan Galassi, now the honorary chairman of the Academy of American Poets, once described slam poetry as a “kind of karaoke of the written word,” while the critic Harold Bloom has called it “the death of art” and complained of “various young men and women in various late-night spots” who “are declaiming rant and nonsense at each other.” George Bowering, a former poet laureate of Canada, condemns slams as “abominations” that are “crude and extremely revolting.”

Does poetry — or, more accurately, the Poet — rise to any level of pop appeal worth seriously mentioning beyond, say, the literate readers of The New York Times or The Guardian?

In the 1950s and 60s the Beat Poet* broke out of the academies' Dead Poets Societies and got on TV and wrote some popular books. Some went to jail and got instant notoriety. They got a whole Generation to go along with them.

Today's Slam Poet (isn't most slam/jam poetry just rap music lyrics "sung" a cappella?) rides on the coattails of the Rap Artist, but I'm not sure the Slam Poet of 2009 rises, yet, to the level — in cultural pop terms — of the Beat Poet of 1959. There needs to be a political/cultural poetic voice that reaches pop status, and the Slam Poet may be the closest we have.

(In full disclosure, I label myself a Geek Poet: a sort of poetic voice from a Wired Magazine Web 2.0 Tech culture, if that makes any sense. Anyway, it's a brand, which I think one needs if one is going to get anywhere these days.)

What could be next? I was thinking, with the fame of Adam Lambert (though he "lost" to the cornhusker-set's Kris Allen), that there could be a revival of glam, and an opportune moment for the Glam Poet. Who will break the mold?

* Today would be Allen Ginsberg's 83rd birthday.