V7N2: February 2001
Table of Contents
It was gaudy synchronicity that Temptation Island even ended up on my television screen. As a lark and an exercise in anthropological slumming, we decided that it was worth a laugh or two. I stand corrected.
My friends and I would get together to have Survivor parties. The show was stupid, but the beer was good and it's just plain fun to whoop and holler and yell at the TV, "Eat the rat! Eat the rat!"
Of all the photographers I have known, few exhibited the passion of Mary Lee Edwards.
Welcome to our passion issue. The idea was to have folks write about whatever they happen to think expresses passion, what they really love -- or hate.
Coffee house art is mostly from those slavish to the good old avant-garde of slap paint abstract expressionism or the rude mechanics of constructivist found object neo-gothics. But occasionally, something damn interesting and moving gets hung.
If you put your soul and body into something, you can create a worthwhile and meaningful product. And someone out there will appreciate it.
The performance of a poem is one moment in time, whereas a poem on a page can be revisited and explored at the reader's leisure.
In just a little while the conglomerate mass of the various "minorities" will actually be the composite majority here.
Whenever life gets to be too much I find refuge in seeing it all slowly disappear from view.
Immediately following the Christmas/New Year hoopla, we are hit with pink lacy hearts, cupids and more chocolate than Punxsutawney Phil can fit in his gopher hole. I must ask myself, who is all this crap for?
The Boy Who Would Be Achilles by Susan B.A. Somers-Willett
Until there is something spoken there,
the ear appears meaningless, a white
tooled shell. But the smiling
face is delicate, your finger
on his picture is touch, slip
away, like stepping a wet
stone. Hero. If you could say it again,
his name would be
awful, the hardest to remember
at parties. It's hard sometimes, you know,
to look at him the way you do,
in the best graces:
school photo, the fat baby
industriously at play, or inconsequential
against the backdrop of Arizona.
That sky. Standing
between two houses, head cocked
to the left as he saw in a film, not shot
like in that dream you had,
scalp and bone flapping
a botched mouth.
You remember nothing
from that day but the cat
got out and the toilet
kept sighing. He stepped out
to McDonald's, some other country,
and never returned. It's not supposed to be
like this you think you said --
he was always the dutiful one,
quietly came between his brothers' conflicts
and buried the cat's kill in the yard.
No ordinary creature
could expect his death
sooner than your own
right foot would turn left.
You wish him thin,
out of existence, the weakest
archetype in your good story.
But then, oh --
to dip him headfast in that river,
make him call your name
Calling In the Divas by K. Bradford
I lay you down
in a forest bed
drink your honeymilk
tender on my lips
trailing down each curve
I bury my head
in your sweet fire
I've been told
we cannot make a child
you and I
We try, oh we try
Calling in the divas
to lend a hand
each other deep
into folds of bark and fern
red berries crush
stains like flowers
that grow amidst our flesh
and by nightfall
where we mingle
in the silence
that tells me:
it is this story
growing between us
that we bare.
Carnality TV by Terry Sawyer
It was gaudy synchronicity that Temptation Island even ended up on my television screen. I was making dinner for friends when we discovered that the muted box was broadcasting the Fox networks latest homage to rock bottom humanity. As a lark and an exercise in anthropological slumming, we all decided that it was worth a laugh or two. I stand corrected.
As it turns out, Temptation Island reaffirms every objection I've ever had to so-called Reality TV. First and foremost being that these contrived circumstances are no more real simply because the players are unknown. Unless, of course, you find it an everyday occurrence that your relationships are besieged by STD-free, scantily clad singles in a tropical paradise. And, were you to find yourself in such a situation, barring the distorting effect of a TV camera, it is doubtful that you would find yourself overjoyed at the prospect of competing to keep your mate, eating a rat or marrying an anonymous millionaire. Better yet is the boardroom brilliance that tells us that reality can be packaged and sold as if it's something that we aren't already embedded in for free. But perhaps the worst contribution of Reality TV is the unnerving display of the human interaction writ dumb. In the real world, having an alcoholic whore roommate is not only not captivating, it's a tedious pain-in the ass. It's been one of the hallmarks of adulthood for me to learn to avoid people who seem to be unable to cope with living unless they are swirling in a miasma of self-induced trauma. Now those same people are elevated to celebrity status for having all of the sickening personality traits of a psychotic poet without any of that silly talent getting in the way.
Maybe the networks have just become experts in victimizing people with no self-awareness. The recent election would certainly lend credence to that idea. Temptation Island puts its contestants in the position of constantly proclaiming their brain-dead audacity. One guy talks about being an ass-man more than a titty-guy only to have the TV cut to a swimming pool full of bikinied women with the omniscient voice-over proclaiming that the men are looking for women with great personalities. And what better way to find them then to go on a tropical sleaze bender with women hired to break up your current relationship. Nothing says soulmate quite like an all expenses paid wet T-shirt contest. Not that the gentler sex fares much better. The women of Temptation Island fall somewhere between stupid and a black hole. From the bimbo who worries, in a voice-over no less, about the earning potential of her date to the women offering their massage and skinny dipping services, the ladies of Temptation Island could just as soon be the staff at a Playboy mansion barbecue. Worst of all, host Mark Wahlberg, in his campfire inquisitions, attempts to treat the show as if it's just some sort of skimpy CNN. I gather that he is pretending that he's working to provide a serious meditation on human relationships, rather than a pornographic peek into the lives of the damned.
By the end of the show, our slight cringes of empathy had morphed into furious screams for emotional lynching. After all, there is only so much point in wasting goodwill on existential exhibitionists willing to prostitute their intimacies for an embarrassing stab at minor fame. It's like sleeping with your mother for a chance to be Donovan Leitch. While we were sorry at first to see the women in tears over their boyfriend's videotaped dalliances, by the end of the show even my friend Jessica was tipping her wine glass to the screen and shouting "that's right, cry, bitch, cry." I even found myself thinking that a swarm of tsetse flies or a sudden elimination of the food supply would dramatically increase my viewing pleasure. Better yet, why not have the island rife with gay singles, proving that with a little isolation and a fifth of your favorite poison, just about anybody is bisexual. It wasn't remotely possible to seriously identify with these people, but it was big fun heaping steamy scorn upon their well-deserved pain. I'm hardly a moral fundamentalist, but it doesn't take a right-wing nutjob to be appalled at this show.
The idea of being entertained by watching vacuous people volunteer to have their long-term relationships coercively ripped to shreds under the voyeuristic eye of a national audience, is enough to make anyone stop to think about the perpetually new lows of the entertainment industry.
I have little patience for arguments to the contrary. I'm not making the straw-point that people are out there scribbling notes from Temptation Island on how to run their own relationships. I'm simply saying that it's not exactly a positive step for television to encourage people to actively enjoy the psychological distress of other real people. This is not some screed about censorship or boycotts or any other high drama recourse. This is just a simple statement on the virtues of restraint. Maybe the next time Fox network executive Sandy Grushaw goes to the gas station, the clerk should say, "Hey, Sandy, thanks for shit cracker without the butter!" Or maybe when host Mark Wahlberg clubs in LA someone with a conscience would say, "God, you're scraping bottom. Wasn't there a game show somewhere to host?" I refuse to listen to academic arguments that inject arcane theory into abject nothing, and think that they're doing anything other than creating meaningless theory. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and surely a piece of shit can be just that.
Stepping out of my soul for a second, maybe it's possible to see a silver lining in all of this. What could be more heartening than the total democratization of fame, even if it's democracy of the lowest order? Maybe we're witnessing the implosion of the star system, as entertainment falls further and further outside of a specialized field, as more people become public figures for their mere existence under the lens of the "Real World". Perhaps, one day we will so empty reality onto the boob tube that entertainment itself will cease to be relevant. Celebrities will no longer be able to provide spiritual spackling for the gnawing voids that plague the life of the consumer citizen. The stars that used to provide vicarious meanings for our worlds would suddenly seem to be people who won a genetic crap shoot and have great jobs because they're pretty diversions. In its most optimistic assessment, maybe Reality TV could, in its debasement of life, bring us to do the unthinkable: turn the TV off. One can hope that one day people will realize that they already possess Reality, the home game, without being sold a more lackluster, integrity-free version.
More realistically, it's just the amoral descent of supply and demand ideology. You can't create trash without trash eaters and trash makers. In the end, the whole surreality hoopla is very likely just the desire of some talentless suit to have us all, in the immortal words of Bill Hicks, "Sucking Satan's pecker for peanuts. Shucks, in my defense, I didn't swallow."
Confessions of a Media Junkie by Melissa Flores
Whose Culture Is TV Destroying?
Nothing bothers me more than people who say, "I hate television. It is the downfall of our culture." Whose culture are they talking about? I don't know where they grew up, but in my world TV was a huge cultural influence. It wasn't until I got to middle school that I even met kids who had never watched TV. And we made fun of them. Now I'm not going to defend every program that flickers across the screen. There's plenty of crap that I won't watch. Frankly, I think Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and those Survivor shows suck. The Millionaire show feeds our problem with thinking that money will make you happy. And, like my boyfriend said the other day, those Survivor shows are probably going to end with someone dying. However my friends and I would get together to have Survivor parties that were a hell of a lot of fun. The show was stupid, but the beer was good and it's just plain fun to get with a group of people who whoop and holler and yell at the TV, "Eat the rat! Eat the rat!"
People who blame TV for their kids being violent and knowing about sex, they bother me the worst. TV is teaching our kids to be materialistic, immune to violence, and overly sexualized. Kids have to learn to be social or they act like primates. Their first teachers are parents, but we have parents who think that if they buy their kids enough stuff, if they shove them off to enough "cultural events", they won't have to spend time with them. And then they expect these kids, who've never been shown right from wrong, never been treated like they were special human beings deserving of attention, and who've seen their parents leave each other when the passion has left the relationship, to be compassionate, patient, forgiving, people who value other people more than their possessions.
My family was poor. They couldn't afford to pay for baby sitters for us so they could run off and do their own things. They couldn't afford to take us to the opera, fine art museums, the symphony or other sophisticated events. But they could afford one television. That was something we could do together. Our culture was our family. God knows we weren't perfect. And I don't think they planned for it to be a formative, educational experience. They were just people in charge of raising kids who did the best they could. And we turned out fine.
As soon as I got to college, like a lot of people, I went through a really snooty, academic phase where I started to snub everything I had grown up with. I began to prefer tabouleh and hummus to McDonald's. I preferred plays and literature to television. If I went to the movies, it was to see some artsy film with subtitles or some plot that was depressing as allget out. I turned up my nose at anything associated with common folk. I despaired that I had not been brought up with real culture. My college education was my ticket to a better life, so I guess I wanted to distance myself as far as I could from my old life.
Thank God, I got over that. Now I listen to Cristina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez with no shame. I admit openly that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite show. When I go home I watch telenovelas with my Grandmother, and I laugh when she threatens to throw a chancala at anyone who disturbs her. I complain about how loud the house is when the TV, Playstation and radio are all going at the same time. I catch myself starting to worry about how fattening and heart clogging all the food I'm fed is. But then I remember that this is who I am. I'm smart enough and capable enough to be an intellectual, stuffy, rich person.
I also can pass, if you know what I mean. But I don't want to. I like being from where I'm from. I like being who I am. And I blame it all on TV.
Defining Passion by Neil Coleman
Passion: an emotion that is deeply stirring, a strong desire for or devotion to an activity, thing or person. For as many people there are in the world, there are just as many types of passion. Some are drawn to physical activities, such as sports; others show enthusiasm over music, or zeal towards a cause or campaign.
Photography is my passion. I share my passion with everyone -- including other photographers. All of these photographers are driven. Driven by the gratification of magically capturing a moment in time. Of defining an action, an emotion, a place. Sometimes the defining moment is decisive, sometimes planned, other times accidental. But all those moments share that special the art of photography.
Of all the photographers I have known, few exhibited the passion of Mary Lee Edwards. Her imagery went from gritty and haunting to heart warming and humorous. The essence of Mary Lee's art shone through the strength of her personal connection with the subjects. This intimacy was expressed not only by her powerful photography but also by the thought-provoking poetry she wrote. This photo-poem collage created a wonderfully unique visual philosophic result. An example is Mary Lee's "Five Women in Black."
Mary Lee, warrior photographer poet. She mixed toughness with vulnerability. She drew on her own experiences as a woman, a mother and divorcee.
A portrait of her early life is summed up in a piece entitled "This is Me."
The photo a self-portrait of a dazed Mary Lee standing among the burnt out remains of a home, alone, with a skillet in one hand, spoon in the other.
Although the passion in Mary Lee's photography and poetry were great, my admiration and respect for her came from her ability to get up from the burnt remains and meet all the challenges that she encountered in life. Her stoicism and humor survived through her battle with terminal illness. She never was one to dwell on her illness, never wanted to be asked how she was feeling, instead she sought out the people who could make her laugh the hardest.
Even though Mary Lee has left us, we still have the haunting images, the poignant poetry and the memory of her bravery to remind us how important it is to have passion in your life.
"When suddenly there is not an unlimited amount of time, nor and endless array of possibilities, it's not so much what you have accomplished you think about, but how much time you have wasted. Wasted on the frivolous, the vain, the (worry)"---Mary Lee Edwards
This world lost Mary Lee Edwards on February 2, 2001. For information on her work contact Neil Coleman at Pro-Jex Gallery, (512) 472-7707, 1705 Guadalupe Street #122, Austin TX 78701.
Editor's Note by Harold McMillan
Greetings, Happy Valentines Day, Happy African American History Month.
Welcome to our passion issue. What a concept. The idea was to have folks write about whatever they happen to think expresses passion, what they really love -- or hate. For the most part, this issue actually does allow some space for passionate expression. Some space for the usual fare of Austin Downtown Arts. I hope you find something here that rings your bell.
For me, the whole passion idea was a stretch for my own writing. Lately I tend to translate everything into an opportunity to talk about my son. I won't do that here, this time.
After not sleeping for a couple of days and still not getting to press when we wanted to, it finally struck me that what I'm passionate about is this. This work. This little magazine and the relationships I have that come with the territory. I don't know of any other reason that explains why we would continue to do this. We must like it. We must really believe that doing cultural work, that doing work connected to your heart, if not your pocketbook, is really a passion for us. I am passionate about providing avenues for folks to express their selves. Whether the avenue is here in this little magazine, on our walls in the gallery, or on stage at one of our shows, the totality of the experience is, really, all about passion.
The Victory Grill and Johnny Holmes
Johnny Holmes was an Austinite who too was passion about providing a venue for expression. He for years provided a stage for local jazz and blues stars and those who would go on to be international music legends. Johnny opened the Victory Grill over fifty years ago, entertained and fed thousands of patrons, and provided an anchor for the East 11th Street Cultural District. This past weekend Johnny Holmes died. He was 83. He will be missed, but the funk will live on at the Victory forever.
I was a Thrift Store Addict by Rachelle Rouse
Summer nights, being lonely
I heard the shoosh of the highway
Musty, buttery people
Staring with numb eyes
Out the windows of their sleek little grasshopper cars
I knew it was over between us
When your cousin moved in with you
When the heat sank into the ground after dark
And I knew I had to move on somehow
So I went to thrift stores after work
Fried hamburger bun leather
The stale, rotting cotton shredded cabbage
For months this was comfort food
But it was messy vinyl fare; the salt grains were visible
It all finally dissolved by September's rain
(I watched it go down the gutter across the street)
I was tired of making the trip in my sauna on wheels
I was tired of the pockets full of mold and sweat
I was tired of finding nothing worthwhile
Interview with Liz Guenthner by Ricardo Avecedo
Shhoosshhhshaa...I'm in dire need of a fix, the gurgle of foaming, the room ripe with aromas... Shhhaa, shhhhhhooo...
"Here's your double latte."
I pull from the pool, liquid dribbles down my chin. I turn, and that's the first time I saw it, the first time I saw Liz Guenthner's work.
I stood transfixed on a pen & ink apparition of the doorway to the universe (a vagina), enhanced, if possible, by surrealistic sensibilities, ornate filagree. I stood there (the 503 Coffee Bar) with mouth gaping, thinking "this is beautiful."
"You're spilling your latte..."
Let's face it, coffee house art is mostly from those slavish to the good old avant-garde of slap paint abstract expressionism or the rude mechanics of constructivist found object neo-gothics. (What?)
But occasionally, against the tedium of tediums, something damn interesting and moving gets hung.
Liz Guenthner's work moves in the shadowy territory of the X & Y evolution of sensuality. Should desire be spoon fed? A mutating medium of pen and ink hammered into structures of paint, of human need and breathless joy.
(Gee, ya think this guy likes her work?)
All pyrotechnics aside, I got a chance awhile back to sit with Liz. Here are the results:
R: Your work doesn't seem to have any gender specific aspects to it, appropriate for you.
L: Yeah, it started in school, I was just becoming a sexual being, I looked at both (sexes) and I found that I was attracted to one and not the other, I didn't know why. The first piece I did had three panels, the left one was a woman, the right was a man and in the middle are a sperm and an egg that had fused together. That was my exploration of being sexual, I didn't see the internal spirit as either or, I just saw it as a chemical difference. That's where it started. Then I thought about desire, and I was trying to understand why I wasn't wanting the male, and so I started to explore sexuality in its pure sense.
R: Breaking it down to a chemical level, do you have a science background?
L: I have always been interested in the sciences, I had a father who was very logical, and he instilled in me that in order to understand something you had to break it down.
R: You said that you started off creatively by doing more illustrations and your teachers said that your work wasn't "art". Tell me about that.
L: In high school the emphasis was to render, then in college they tried to push me away from that. But the way I expressed myself was by twisting objects and creating a new dialogue between symbols that didn't in reality fit together, so I created my own language still keeping the details of each image, but being surreal with my symbols and how they connected. So I created actual objects with new meaning, like a hammer represents protection.
R: A hammer represents protection?
L: It started from a painting I did of a women trapped in a box and she's holding this hammer and there were nails and she was actually hammering from the inside out, to keep out what she needed in order to keep her reality her own. People see the hammer and say, "oh you're destructive," but I see it as a tool to build and create things
R: What are some other reoccurring images?
L: The fetus, the pacifier, images of child hood, sexual images, female genitalia.
R: I see artists as very spiritual; do you think you put that in your art?
L: Defiantly, growing up with the whole ritual of being Catholic was a very beautiful experience and I like my art to be beautiful. I want to pull from the classics but then stick in my surrealism.
R: I noticed the spoon in several pieces, what does that represent?
L: I think it is about feeding, the mothering aspect.
R: Do you think you had a hard time coming out as an artist because of the difficulties you had coming out sexually?
L: Ya, I wasn't valid to my parents, to my family, and from the beginning my parents looked down on the artist in me.
R: Were there any artists that influenced you?
L: Dali, he created his own language, and Magrite he still kept the detail but threw in a derby with the naked woman.
R: Do you think that, at this point in time, we live in a world where it is safer for women to create images that are classically sensual and not have them seen as misogynistic?
L: I defiantly think so. I think men have a lot of pressure to not be emotional. Being a woman lends itself to being able to see past the mask and to see the emotion of each individual.
R: Lets talk more about the working process, when you seek motivation, ideas? Where do you go?
L: I find that the best way for me to see images is to just start with doodling, and then whatever I've been dealing with comes out, and if I see something interesting I start elaborating and it takes off from there. The day to day influences my work, but also profound images will come to my head.
R: Do you ever go places and sketch people and environments?
L: When I go to coffee shops I do that.
R: Are there any icons that show up presently that you are drawn to?
L: The most recent one is the spoon. I like it because of its simple shape, and you think of eating. I think of it as a feminine object. It became another tool.
R: Where do you see yourself going with your art? Are you evolving with more textural stuff, more mixed media?
L: In school all I did was two-dimensional art, anything 3D had to be functional. My challenge is to try to jump into the three-dimensional.
R: You see yourself doing sculpture?
R: What type of sculpture attracts you? Found objects?
L: It's going to be a combination of things. I like the natural world combined with the industrial man made world.
R: Is there something you would like people to say about as time passes, like in future sight.
L: I would like them to comment on my ability to evolve. I really think people need to reinvent themselves on a daily basis, especially if they are in the public eye. I want it to be evolving into something better. I think it's important for people to say, Wow, look what she is doing now, something new. And I never want to be satisfied in my work, it keeps me going.
My Arms a Response by John Duval
I know it was me
You wanted God
to pluck from your bed.
My lowered eyelids
feigning sleep, I watched you,
sitting upright, staring
out the window at the
thought of someone else
or yourself in the
I extended my arms to you
not because you loved me
but to assuage
the torture of you
loving nothing but
my merciless constancy.
Don't think it was easy
to pretend. It wasn't.
It was a hard night's work
to lay so close,
the smell of your skin like
only the smell of your skin
etched into my memory.
Well, God, a glass
of amnesia, please.
I wish I were empty, lungs
deflated from the endless
whisperings of love.
It seems I am
not so fortunate.
Again and again,
these are my arms.
Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer
In our materialistic, post-industrial capitalist culture, philosophical ideas tend to be reduced to snappy catch phrases, and life struggles to "sexy"soundbites. Maybe we are victims of too much technology, too much information, too much history. Maybe we are just bloated pigs, filled with corporate fried meat products until our inner child resembles Jabba the Hut.
In such a milieu, the inner passionate energies that squirm and wriggle through our souls find few truly liberating forms of expression. Of course sex still remains the best, but there are time-tested routes of libidinal sublimation that can result in emotionally and culturally rewarding acts. The arts, the sciences, late night ramblings with boho girls in smoky espresso joints. All of these are not without value. I seem to favor music. Perhaps I just fell backwards into it.
As a young lad standing on the shoreline of the murky sea of pubescence, I was naturally taken aback by the roiling waves and mysterious currents which are modern womanhood. There I was, a mere pup, with a few scraggly strands of hair sprouting from the genital area, and yet I had a massive, turgid, throbbing sense of wonderment. How to proceed?
The sirens and muses of popular culture surrounded and enticed me. Diana Rigg in zipper-strewn leather bodysuits, Raquel Welch daintily dodging dinosaurs in her clinging cavegirl bikini, Barbara Eden bobbing her head and chirping "Yes, Master!" Ginger, Mary Ann, and all the rest, not too mention the honeyed tones of Dusty Springfield and Astrud Gilberto, and Herb Alpert's album cover to Whipped Cream & Other Delights. What was a poor boy to do?
Luckily I was learning to play the clarinet and I soon found that while unfurling and exerci- sing one's manhood in public was generally frowned upon (especially in stodgy New Eng- land where I came of age), assembling and noodling on a 2-foot phallic vibrating tube of wood was considered not only acceptable but even a mark of nascent talent.
With such social encouragement my future was all but assured. The only problem, I soon realized, was that girls didn't seem to find my big ebony tune stick as magnetically charged as say, an electric guitar or bass. Maybe it was the music I played. Maybe my hair wasn't big enough. By the time I realized that my licorice stick was not as sensuous to hear as it was to play, it was too late. I had become hooked on jazz.
And so it went. I crooned and moaned from the stage on my wooden phallus, while guys danced with girls and electric guitarists drowned me out with their high-decibel technosex toys (stomp boxes with names like "crushverb." "death distortion" and "chamber echo"). I couldn't compete. I became a musical voyeur, watching enticing females dance before me as if through the thick walls of an aquarium tank. I withdrew into esoteric scales, and superhip jazz licks.
I found a brotherhood of jazz monks (and a few jazz nuns). We traded arcane knowledge like trekkies, wrote quirky jazz tunes with obscure puns for titles, and generally sublimated our sexual energies as fast as our horny little fingers could play. Then something wonderful happened.
I learned a life lesson: If you put your soul and body into something, you can create a worthwhile and meaningful product. And someone out there will appreciate it.
I was playing a gig somewhere (now I was an adult, just barely, and a quasi-professional musician), when a beautiful woman approached the stage. During the break she came up to me and said, "I can really hear your passion in your music." True, she didn't throw me down on the beer encrusted floor and have her way with me right then and there. In fact she disappeared and I had to go back onstage for the next set, but still, I was moved.
The passion in the music is still what moves me. It is there in a lot of music,though unfortunately what passes for passion a lot of the time feels more like posing and they are, in the words of the bard, sound and fury signifying nothing. There's a lot of it you have to weed through, but there is passion out there too.
I am reminded often of a turn of phrase brought to the table by the sociologist Herbert Marcuse: "repressive desublimation." More on that another time, but it does bring me back to that inner Jabba, stuffing his face with empty calories, looking vainly for love in a supersized sack of greasy french fries. I do it too; I give in to the pseudosexual products of this fast-paced neurotic sexual economy, when what I really want is the full meal, the truly passionate release.
Until then, there is still jazz.
Slam Poetry by Sonya Feher
Slam poetry has revitalized an oral tradition. Many argue that the work performed in poetry slams is not really poetry and doesn't meet page poetry's standards. The reverse argument, that poems published in journals don't deliver on stage, is almost never made. Comparisons regarding the success of page vs. stage poems shouldn't exist. It's a misguided attempt to judge the written and oral experience of poetry by the same criteria.
The slam format is a competitive performance where a person performs an original poem, without props, costumes or musical accompaniment, in three minutes and ten seconds or less. Judges score the poem on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0 based half on content and half on performance. On the page, one can observe a poet's choices regarding line breaks, end rhyme, internal rhyme, punctuation, capitalization and other technical elements. In the slam the judges must assess the poem based strictly on what they hear. Because of this, the merits of a performance poem should be evaluated differently. Performance poets guide the audience on a visceral level.
This guidance may be accomplished through different means -- including how fast one reads, where one takes a breath, or what syllable or word in a sentence one emphasizes. The performance poet has much more control over how the poem is experienced by an audience than the page poet does. This doesn't reflect on the quality of the poem, but on the variety of readers' approaches and audience perception. If I perform a poem for fifty people, the poem might resonate in those people differently, one relating to an experience expressed, another is particularly attracted to a turn of phrase. But all fifty of those people have heard the same presentation of the poem.
In page poems, if the refrain of a poem is repeated five times -- even if the line breaks are different and intend to have the reader emphasize the sound of a word or a specific syllable -- it is nearly impossible to convey to the reader how the author intends for the word to be said past what the text tells the reader. The context of a phrase might lead a reader to assume that, "Wasn't it enough?" read in a sad passage should be perceived differently than the same phrase in an angry paragraph. A poem on the page may be translated by a particular reader in one tone, and take on a different mood if read by a different reader.
When a written poem is read aloud, one can't always hear where the line break is, especially considering that authors choose to break a line based on widely varying criteria in free verse. Through these choices poets try to convey the way they want the poem to be heard. Break choices might focus on the pace, or they might be geared toward conveying multiple meanings. On the page if one reads: "Maybe, in fifty years,/I won't think/it's February." The reader might stop after "think" and read, "Maybe in fifty years, I won't think." When they go on to the next line, they become aware that the line fully reads, "I won't think it's February." In performance, a poet might pause after "I won't think" before going on to finish the line; the performer makes the decision concerning how the audience hears those lines. An audience member cannot make the choice to stop and consider the line break, pause or not pause, or read the work on different levels because the performer is reading the poem with her intended inflection, tone, pace, etc.
Devices on the page all serve to lead the reader towards a specific way of reading the poem, but these methods can be insufficient for slam poetry. Eulogy of Jimi Christ by Reggie Gibson, the 1998 National Individuals Champion, is a perfect example. In the print version published in Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry, Gibson's utilization of page devices, with the intent to lead the reader towards a reading of the poem similar to Gibson's stage presentation of the work, is only partially successful. For example, his word combining produces a loping cadence on the page as exemplified in the following section:
"to die young to die
high to die
die free to die young to die high
to die stoned to die
While this does create a pacing similar to how he performs the poem himself, it's pale in comparison to Gibson's embodiment of the work. It doesn't convey Gibson personifying the sound of a sustained shrill guitar tone. Gibson's rendering of a Jimi Hendrix solo cannot be accurately translated to the page. Whether performed aloud or printed, poetry is both limited and enhanced by the medium in which it is experienced. On the page, "Eulogy" does not incite readers to leap to their feet, forget to breathe, or anxiously anticipate what's coming next. On the page, "Eulogy" does not justify Gibson's superstar status in the slam world, but on the stage Gibson's work is highly respected. This could fuel traditionalists' argument that slam poetry doesn't hold up on the page, but comparison regarding which is better or worse is a moot one. The work uses disparate apparati to reach its audience.
One requirement of a successful poem, whether written for the page or the stage, is how the language in the poem translates into sound. One may read the poem aloud to see if the sound, rhythm and flow of the poem translate off the page, out of one's mouth, and into the ears of a listener. But whether the poem can be conveyed so that a listener is able to glean the meaning of the text and be present with the text as it is read is another matter. There are certain conventions that magnify the presence of a poem and allow it to be heard in such a way that the audience can see the poem without having it on the page in front of them. Performance poetry, and the slam in particular, utilize these conventions to benefit the audience and to influence the interpretation of their work. Performance poetry incorporates dramatic elements, timing, facial expressions, gestures, and pronunciation/ inflection which is very difficult, if not impossible, to replicate on the page. Some might say that performance poets are cheating because they can augment their poems with these devices. That would be similar to saying that a page poet should not break a line to influence the reader's interpretation of the poem. Performance and page poets simply have different tools at their disposal.
Poems that might require reading and rereading in order for their meaning to be gleaned are likely to be unsuccessful in the slam. Performance poets must keep in mind that an audience member may be hearing the poem for his first and only time. One of the fundamental differences between page and stage poetry is that the performance of a poem is one moment in time, whereas a poem on a page can be revisited and explored at the reader's leisure. The writing is essential as a basis for what is performed, though in the slam, the writing is only part of the evaluative process. The performance can only enhance what is written, not replace it.
Certainly, there are a few basic elements which poems for the page and the stage share. Are the images evocative? Is the language fresh and expressive? Is the work transformative in some way? Does reading or hearing one line make you want to continue exploring the poem? All writing, however it may be experienced by an audience, should have these elements. But there are a number of elements that are specific to the page or the stage and can't be compared. The problem is there are people who believe there is one definition of poetry and all poetry should conform to this elusive and limited definition. Different styles of poetry should be judged on their own merits and their own criterion. Poetry is not a static art. It evolves in the same way language does. Just as people are resistant to new words or new definitions, so are people railing against the definition of poetry, and all that poetry embodies, being expanded. Just as no one would require a ghazal to meet the same criteria as a haiku, naysayers should not expect slam and page poetry to conform to the same standards.
Sub Rosa by Becki
steel rained-on panes of windows mute a light
and never blink or wink their eyes for me
not when the bus is moving not when the blinds are down
not when there is silence not when there is
they are whispering not faith not truth maybe hope but not reasons for
against the branches of trees that talk not to me but to each other
won't you come back won't you come won't you ? this is a song
that does that does not twist truth into faith or pain or answers for
that's the one I'm looking for that's the one I that's the one I'm hearing now
so those are the drums that beat that move that win me by virtue of proximity
and turn me into belly dancing woman or or prophet born too late or someone's son
what I wonder inside the bones of broken hours takes me home at night
wakes me up at eight or seven makes tea at ten answers voices
inside of telephones reads white screen words but never answers itself
never turns the light on never flashes into the kind of truth
I try to live through rolling days or sing for
and so the underbellies of the fractured shards of my tall tales gather dust and rosebuds
where no one may where I may not where the door isn't open to friends or strangers
that's my mind holding its own keys that's a closet in a church in a foreign land
that's memory and left-over revelation that's not enough to keep telling
not enough to wrap around a cold day or a sprain or a scrap of joy
But the rain today is unusual and the sun knows it, and this is a relative of a kind of truth:
my windows are clean ones, and usually open to -- open for -- well, not closed anyway.
now I wonder where you come into this equation where truth comes where courage
to open the door comes from or goes when I leave it closed or cracked
where I go from there where we go when we can
when a road opens up or when we see the right light or sky
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
First things first. For some of us every month is a celebration of African American culture. Even so, we still think it's a good idea to bring special attention to African American history and culture each February. Even if more folks really embraced the notion of the importance of living in a multicultural society, it would still be a good idea.
The truth is, so it seems, life in America is really not a life in the melting pot of the world, not life in a happy-functioning multicultural society. I hate to be the one to tell you, but mentally, emotionally, America is moving very painfully, slowly-some kicking and screaming-into a future that will find the dominant, majority "race" as the statistical minority. In just a little while the conglomerate mass of the various "minorities" will actually be the composite majority here. All of those by-god-I'm-pure Americans will be but a small handful of misguided white supremacists and (as I call them: WAPIDs) other, slightly more conscious White American Purist in Denial seeking shelter from the grungy masses of uppity hyphenated fellow country-persons. And, I really believe, if we don't take a look at this situation now, and start doing some things to soften their shock, there are gonna be some very scared and dangerous white people around here when the Texas political landscape starts to be peopled by folks with names like Garcia.
To offer full disclosure here, I must admit that I really don't have a soft spot for the average good-ole-boy-Texas-redneck-KKKwannabe-type. They have their own problems to contend with: I'm happy to be one of the problems for them. But for the WAPIDs, I have more compassion (after all, being a compassionate extremist IS in fashion these days). For the WAPIDs, I have some advice. And, my advice is somewhat based on how blackfolks must live in this country, as a matter of course. My tips for survival are simple, to be sure, but the situation is very complex. WAPIDs, you got improvise some here. You can learn that from us blackfolks. You know, that's one of the things we are supposed to be good at.
First things first. Open your head, heart, and your mouth and repeat after me. If you have trouble following the words, just listen to us blackfolks. We've got lots of practice, soul deep practice, with the first step.
Step one: say this to yourself and everyone that will listen:
One of America's major hindrances to achieving true, ethical, moral greatness is our inability to deal honestly with our "race problems." And, as an American, I must admit that this is indeed my problem, not just the problem of those who don't look like me.
Step two: say this in much the same fashion as the first:
The answer to our societal race problem is not to simply demand conformity and homogeneity, but to look honestly and openly at our differences. Then, if we need to demand something, we demand that folks learn that identifying difference, at it's base, is an acknowledgment of observation without judgment.
Judgment of difference is not necessarily a bad thing. All of us judge. Judgment without investigation, knowledge, appreciation, critical thinking is, however...lame! We want to be cool, not lame. We aspire to be zesty, not unzesty.
Demanding that everyone embrace our world-view, culture, point of view, and politics is uncool, unzesty. Unless, of course, we're sure that our bias is informed by a direct line to God. And if we do have that direct line, we have to be prepared to produce evidence of the connection. God speaks to everyone, remember. And, since that connection might be hard to prove, we have to engage in respectful debate-that must include some amount of time listening- in order to establish agreement. And, chances are, our connection to God will tell us that truth, integrity, respect, and love are the keys to dealing in a righteous manner with difference.
Now, my next step is not advice nor a mantra, it's a request for you to consider three questions:
1) If I were a white American, who grew up in Grand Saline, Texas, and moved to Austin to practicce my profession (say, law enforcement), how good do you think I'd be at telling you about blackAmerica's contribution to my American cultural heritage?
2) If I were a blackman who grew up in Houston's Third Ward, and moved to Austin to practice my choosen profession (law enforcement), how good do you think I'd be at telling you about white America's contribution to my American cultural heritage?
3) If those two guys ended up as State Troopers, on the detail protecting Gov. Perry, and over coffee started to discuss the influence of Mexican history on the art, politics, and culture of Texas, which one would know the date and significnce of Cinco de Mayo?
4) Because you are who you are, from your own personal cultural knowledge-base, what could you do to contribute to their converstion? After all, we do-regardless of our ethnicity or politics-now live in what was once Northern Mexico.
Yes, I digress, but not that much. The point I'm trying to get at here is that whole thing of difference. Our schools, media, government have to make sure that we Americans do have a somewhat common knowledge-base. What is also true is that knowledge-base is predicated on the assumption that white people are the normal Americans. We folks of color-regardless of where we live or come from, or how far back our American lineage goes back-are the others, the abnormal ones,the minorities, marginalized.
Even here in Northern Mexico that is true. Even (especially) on the Native American/American Indian resservations of the Upper Mid-and South West this is true. Even for the historically all blacktownships of Florida this is true.
Those of us who are not true Americans are brought up with the expectation that we hook -- line, and sinker -- into that common knowledge-base I mention and quietly wait until our month, or our chapter, or our area (sports anyone?), or our day/night at the student union or workplace to move out of the shadows and into the light.
As for my little list of questions, I don't really know the answer. Maybe the white guy from Grand Saline, which happens to be an all white village in Northeast Texas, is the one who knows the most history. But if he is, it's because he and/or his parents made an extra special effort to dig below the surface of what is offered as part of our public education system here.
The point that I'm most confident in making is that we "minorities" also have to dig to get at our stories, our histories, our culture because we are not woven into the [telling of] story of America in ways that really do justice to what is true and real.
Because the company line has been for so long to ignore and deny, yes there is much catching up that needs to happen. And, yes, one of the best ways to do that is to have an annual "month" to celebrate.
But you know what, black folks are black all year long. My/our family history stays intact, ready for the telling/reading/celebrating all year long. And, more than any other thing I want you to hear me on, on the other side of that hyphen is still American. There is absolutely no way, no sir, that you can tell the real story of America without talking -- at length -- about the important roles my ancestors played in building this society. And this is even more true because my/our ancestors are many of the same folks.
Let's do better for our kids than what we were handed. Until we have schools (and parents) that deal with multicultural education as the standard, there will always be a remedial need for Hyphenated-American Month. I hope that, at least in my son's lifetime, there will be a day when we all look to Black-American History Month or Brown-American History Month or German-American History Month as times to simply celebrate the multiplicity of cultures found here, not as a begrudged political concession made to keep the savages from rioting. Lighten up and have a good time with us. It's your history too.
In the meanwhile, think about how different America would be without...jazz, blues, ragtime, dixieland, hiphop, rhythm and blues,reggae,open heart surgery, blood banks, dreadlocks, Michael Jordan, Barbara Jordan, Colon Powell, Billie Holiday, Juneteenth, breakdancing, "what up, dog," Martin King, Malcolm X, Alain Locke, the Harlem Renaissance, Motown Records, Duke/Peacock Records, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, Johnny Holmes, T.D. Bell, Erbie Bowser, traffic lights, the hot comb, Bert Addams, Toni Morrison, Miles Davis, Alice Walker, Doris Miller, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith, Jimi Hendrix, Fredrick Douglas, W.E.B DuBois, Cecil Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Kenny Dorham, Langston Hughes, Spike Lee, The Marsalis Family, Zydecco, Carter Woodson, John Biggers, Charles White, Jacob Lawrence, Heman Sweat, gospel music, bebop, funk music, rap, Soul Train, FUBU, gerry curls, B.B. King, James Balwin, Richard Wright, the New Negro, the Niggerati, the talented tenth, Clarence Thomas, Joycelyn Elders, Arnette Coleman, Arnette Cobb, John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, King Oliver, Sun Ra, Ismael Reed, Jessie Fauset, Zora Hurston, Ralph Abernathy, Jessie Jackson, Earl Campbell, W.C. Handy, Willam Grant Still, Ron Carter, Max Roach, Ebony, Jet, Essence,Paul Robeson, Howard University, Fisk, Huston-Tillotson, Jarvis, Prairie View University, Walter White, Countee Cullen, Texas Southern University, Grambling College Football, Michael Jackson, Hayes McMillan, and on and on....
Use This One Instead by Jodi Keeling
It was untamed passion that drove me out of town. Desire had my heart in flames, my head swimming in the seas of vertigo. And once again, my familiar world was riding the edge of existence. Once again, I longed to see the vicissitudes of my life slowly fade from view into a thin line, a dot, a nothing in the rear view mirror as I motored on I needed clarity, and sought comfort in the simple monotony of the High Plains landscape. I had to GO. Those who know me nod knowingly amongst themselves "there she goes again, running from."
To them I say NO, I am running TO.
For whenever life gets to be too much I find refuge in seeing it all slowly disappear from view. Nothing-ness has a way of giving me perspective. I love the void. For it is only by facing the possibility of my own annihilation that I gain anew understanding, it is only by getting away that I am truly able to come back. And so I left Austin to visit my girlfriend Mindy, not really knowing if I'd come back, or where I'd go if I didn't. She was there, in Lubbock, helping her mother Ruth Ann cope with the recent onset of blindness after having an experimental surgery that was intended to improve her eyesight. Some might say, such is life, we are living longer than ever before. And maybe that's true. It is true though that Ruth Ann's situation is not so unusual. In fact, it is not unusual at all for an 80 year old woman to go blind while her 82 year old husband also loses his mind to Alzheimer's. It seems you and I, we are all living on a precipice balanced carefully at the edge of the abyss.
The question then must be do we shrink or expand at the sight of it? Ruth Ann, she copes with the void by holding fast to the familiar. A voice-activated phone and computer keep her linked up to those she loves. A series of daily eye exercises everyday, doctors and an acupuncturist all help her to hang on to what little vision she has left. I cope with suffocation from the familiar by forever seeking-out the unknown. My life has been a series of small cataclysmic events that continuously plunge me into the abyss. I feel very uncomfortable when nothing is happening. Monotony is death to me, the familiar suffocates me and so I run. When nothing is happening, I run. Together Mindy and I ran all the way to New Mexico to a tiny village named Dixon. Our first night there I took a long walk out into the snow capped hills. The shadows grew long in the bright moonlight hanging, suspended in the starry sky. Taking in a long deep breath I looked up to see the galaxy hanging over me.
I laughed. I am sitting still on a spinning ball that is hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour. I close my eyes. Within I see a similar view to the stars that hang over me. And it becomes clear to me that the passion that propelled me here also draws me back to see my familiar life anew, seek out the unknowns in the known, dive into the abyss of the familiar and find a new leaf to turn over. I stand up, turn and run home to stand still.
Verities by Susan Acevedo
The Heart of the Matter
or What Has Hallmark Done for You Lately?
I feel as though I am fast becoming the female version of a curmudgeon. What do they call that, a shrew? Immediately following the Christmas/New Year hoopla, we are hit with pink lacy hearts, cupids and more chocolate than Punxsutawney Phil can fit in his gopher hole. Since 40% of my friends are single, 50% are divorced and 80% are fed up with relationships in general, I must ask myself, who is all this crap for? This year I decided to seek out some alternatives.
Let's start with the roots of modern day Valentines. According to Christian beliefs, on February 14th AD 270, St. Valentine was executed for performing secret illegal wedding ceremonies. Hence the romantic part. Emperor Claudius II had banned weddings in order to make it easier to obtain soldiers for his various wars. On the eve of his execution, he sent a farewell note to his newfound love, the jailer's daughter, (some say he cured her of blindness) signed "From Your Valentine". Hence the exchange of cards. Some say this is also the day when birds start to mate. Hence the lovebird. An enterprising American sent the first modern Valentine card around 1870 or so (no, not Hallmark). Hence the postal exchange. Like most Christian beliefs, if you dig around long enough you are bound to find an older, more pagan belief.
In this case we have the Roman festival of Lupercalia, a festival of eroticism that honored Juno Februata, the goddess of "feverish" love. Now this is more like it. The event centered on priests (Luperci) who would sacrifice goats (capri). Feeling erotic? In a fertility and purification exercise, the priests would smear goats blood on young men who would then make whips from the goat hides and run through the village thrashing all who stood in their way. Women intentionally begged to be whipped, for it was believed that this would make them fertile. Some say in their frenzy they also tore off their clothes. Sounds like the beginnings of another modern ritual,-- spring break.The climax of this celebration was a lottery drawing of all the eligible men and women, who would then pair up as couples for the remainder of the year. It's unlikely that you will find many Luperci priests around, although lottery drawings to choose your mate seem to be making a comeback. But there are still plenty of other pagan festivals that are gaining in popularity. The modern Pagan Calendar celebrates eight major festivals: Yule (December 22); Imbolc (February 2); Ostara (March 21); Beltaine (May 1); Midsummer (June 21); Lughnasadh (August 1); Mabon (September 21); and Samhain (October 31).
Imbolc is known as the festival of the Maiden, and it is a time to prepare for growth and renewal. This Festival has also been linked to the goddess Brighid. It is seen as an initiatory period, a time to plant the seeds of our hopes and dreams. There are many rituals associated with this festival, including lighting candles to honor the rebirth of the sun, weaving "Brigit's crosses" from straw to hang in the house for protection and prosperity and "Brigit's beds" for fertility of mind and spirit. Brigid is the goddess of inspiration, of vitality and about the hope for renewal. There a many spellings of Brigid's name. Her roots lie in Celtic Ireland, but she has been adapted by other faiths, including Christianity, as a Saint. There is debate whether or not it is the same Brigid.
If this type of celebration is more up your alley, or if you just want to get a glimpse of a naked goddess, check out the plethora of websites currently out there. As in researching most subjects these days, you never have to leave the comfort of your home in order to get started on the road to paganism.
Start with www.about.com, use the keyword pagan, and you will find enough links to squander a whole afternoon. A few helpful links are wicca.com, www.witchvox.com & wiccanweb.net. But there are many, many more. Nothing on love potions, however. You can even find listings for events which may be coming to a town near you.
Once you have all the basics down, it might be time to go out and celebrate. Lose the lacy pink hearts; bring on the goat whips and candles. Oh, and it's okay to save a little of that chocolate.