Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gypsy Poetry Slam and the Kentucky Women Writers Conference Part I

Some of the Affrilachian Poets hang out after Gypsy Slam.
 I have attended only a small portion of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference these last two days, but even so, it's all sort of a whirlwind of creative energy and feminine-power.  For anyone who doesn't know, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference is the longest running event of its kind in America, and this year features Diane Ackerman and (one of my personal heroes) Patricia Smith.  Plus, my Affrilachian Poet sister Bianca Spriggs runs the Gypsy Slam (an all female slam poetry event).

Yes, you can attend most the events if you're a guy, and yes, if you're within driving distance or in any way able to come to next year's event, you probably should.  It's been amazing so far.

I'm going to be completely honest though.  This is more a two part blog entry out of necessity than convenience; I need sleep.

The Gypsy Slam actually happened last night, but I want to talk about it real quick while it's fresh on my mind.  Before sleep.  Fellow NKY poet Lisa Marie Carbert did her thing.  She's really getting awesome, and it's great to see some of us represent from time to time.  Northern Kentucky rarely gets any love.  And I got to see a lot of the Lexingtonians I've come to know and love too, it was an all-around amazing event.

Afterwards, though, I got to sit down for a little while tonight with Lauren Zuniga, who won the competition (I won't even begin to talk about how breathless her second poem left me), and Laura Yes Yes, who all around rocks as a person and a poet (Cave Canem Group A what!) and we talked a little bit about how slam poetry is perceived.  That is, as something lesser than poetry.  Patrica Smith hasn't done slam in some years, but Lauren noted that a reviewer explained that Patricia Smith had transcended her slam roots.  As if slam is the first step to writing real poetry.  Poetry-as-training-bra.

Semi-random aside.  Here's Laura Yes Yes on her first set, tearing it up, and captured with a camera that has strangely rendered her as some sort of poetic spirit-warrior:

Hell, it was only earlier this week I was telling my friend and fellow poet Megan Scharff, that I believe that there are academic poets who purposely read poorly because the only people who they care about impressing are poets, publishers, and professors who are used to that kind of reading, or who are already enamored with their previously published work.  Perhaps it's the cynic in me, but I have been to too many horrendous academic readings to believe that all those poets happen to be naturally terrible readers who have never gotten any better.  There's an idea in academic poetry that alienating the audience is fine, because it weeds out those who are not serious about the blessed miracle that is the written word.

I've never believed that poetry is dying, but if it was, it would be because of academic poetry, and those who support the idea that letting the audience in is a crime.  That's not to say that all poetry need be 'easy' to understand: narrative, straight-forward, and simply-worded, though some of my favorite poetry is.  It means that when a human being is standing on stage, they can at least give the other human beings in the room the common courtesy of caring.


  1. Touche, Keith. My sentiments, exactly. Love Laura, too. Catch the timing and the humor. Awesome! We can do without a lot of academic poetry, but some of it is still good storytelling.

  2. I'm having trouble writing what I would like to say. Let's just say your take on academic poets vs performance poets is quite interesting.

  3. This is a great post, Keith. Thanks! :)

  4. Yep. I always think when folks say the words should stand by themsleves and should not need theatrics to convey their message its like saying words on a page need no particular shape or layout to be conveyed. Like the reader should just be able to imagine where the line breaks are because the words are so good.

  5. I'm interested in knowing what it is you would like to say, Evelyn. :P

    Laura Yes Yes, apologies for having a camera too cheap to catch the non-plasma part of you. And thanks for speaking up for me and letting me in the Patricia Smith workshop!

    Lauren, I never thought about it that way. of course that's true

  6. Keith - Glad you joined the workshop on Sunday. Great post here - I agree that there are MANY "academic" poets who don't care about how their audience interacts with the work. There are many, however, who are extremely engaging readers. And although I have never slammed, I try to read my work in a way that speaks to the audience- so I was so pissed that I was crying too much to make it through that poem in the workshops on Sunday because I was proud of what I turned out to that wicked prompt!

  7. No doubt, there are academic poets who care, and I wouldn't say that all poetry must be performed, per se. I'm not sure anybody would consider what I do to be spoken word, and as a matter of taste, one may not necessarily like my 'style,' whatever that may be, but I do care, and that's the first thing anybody ought to do before they step up on a stage.

    And I'm glad I came too, DJ! Don't worry about someone reading it in your stead; we were sharing our poetry, not necessarily performing it, and it was a beautiful poem.

  8. Thanks for the footage of Laura Yes Yes. It was great to get to see/hear her work.

  9. You're welcome, Sherry, thanks for the comment!