Category Archives: Poems
Today, I drank coffee with Medusa’s little sister,
whose hair does not slither, but rather rises buoyed,
a cotton-candy flower blooming into sugar-rush and sick.
She drinks espresso in a single gulp.
She tells me that just because her face does not stop men in their tracks,
the way her sister’s beautiful face causes men to become immobile,
struck still as stone statues in their bumbling awe,
this does not mean she remains permissive to their stares.
The absence of serpent heads does not make her victim. She too
courts lightning inside of her.
She too some days feels like a monster,
shattering mirrors with shrieks of desperation.
She too knows rage’s name, kisses him like a grandfather.
She too has been scorned, but her hair
does not scare away the boys who whistle, only melts in the heat,
a sticky pink mess of fake sweet.
I encountered a mob of frenzied students
in the throes of a musical number.
Each face stretched into song, arms angled toward sky
like a tuning fork attempting to channel thunder’s vibrations.
They danced a choreographed can-can,
legs pumping and kicking scissor-snaps.
They grab my hand, implore me to join in,
and I shrug, tired this early in the morning.
I cannot sing the song they each know every word to,
and if I tried to mimic their dances, I would end up
always half a beat behind, trying to blend in,
my face stretching into smile.
Who’s musical fantasy was this anyways,
that requires so many unwilling participants?
Two leather-jacketed lovers sway in the center of our spectacle,
spinning by themselves.
Oblivious to the circus elephants marching behind us, a plane flying in loops above us,
and the rain of confetti floating fast like a penny dropped from atop the Empire.
The lovers do not look to see if we’ve got the moves right.
They’re not even dancing at all.
So, you want to win a poetry slam? Listen closely, and I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do.
For those uninitiated into the ancient art form of spoken word, ‘Slam’ is a competition invented by Marc Smith (So What?) in 1985 at this joint called the Get Me High Lounge. Poetry at the time was pretty crazy—people were bellowing elongated vowels atop bar stools and generally doing whatever they pleased. The conceit of the poetry slam was to get more people into seats to experience poetry, which is the main problem that poetry confronts—its serious public image problem.
Conjure the poet, the black-turtle-necked, finger-snappin’ intellectual speaking as if in a trance words describing their daily bowel movements and the fresco-palette of the setting sun. Slam poetry has in recent decades sucker-punched poetry back into the public spotlight, made it spectacle to see, not just a hobby for snooty would-be-rebels. Poetry slam is energetic. Scoop up the love of words and the search for truth, slap that together with theatrical Umph! and you get Slam Poetry. Almost like reciting monologues, almost like delivering a Pentecostal sermon, almost like political protest, but not exactly like any of that, the art of Spoken Word has grown into an international phenomenon.
Almost every major city holds a regular poetry slam. I happen to co-host the Holy City Slam right in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Beyond that, there are also regional slams—these often offer more money to get the best in the surrounding states to come out to compete. From there one sees larger and larger slams, including the National Poetry Slam and International Poetry Slam. Got no idea what I’m talking about? Here are some videos from recent slams that have taken place in the United States including the Rustbelt Poetry Slam, the Southern Fried Poetry Slam (which the Holy City Slammers took part in), and CUPSI.
But you didn’t come here to hear me sing the praises of poetry slams, did you? You don’t care about the history or the atmosphere. You just want to win. So the ULTIMATE secret to winning a poetry slam is…
Go to a poetry slam. There really ain’t much of a secret. Because judges are randomly chosen from the audience and because those judges’ tastes vary so much, there is no one style of poetry that will appeal to everyone. I know, it’s disappointing for me to lead you on like this, to hype up this great secret and then drop your expectations off a sheer cliff. But I will share an even better secret with you.
The Poetry Slam is a trick. It’s a game. We just people to come out and read and experience poetry. I mean, poetry is awesome, but it has a serious image problem. People think poetry is boring. Until individuals take the plunge and experience the magic and healing of spoken word for themselves, they can’t know what they’re missing until they take that first plunge. So we dress poetry up like a sport, give it a competitive edge so that poets will bring their best and most polished work to the stage. This forces the poet to memorize and practice and hone their skills until they can stand on stage and deliver the best damn poem the world’s ever been. And the audience is inspired, and they will give the poets incredible scores, HURRAH!
But we don’t hold the poetry slam so we can hoist the winner on our shoulders and praise them for their literary efforts. Of course, the winner is usually an awesome poet who kicks verbal ass, but that’s not the point of the poetry slam, nope. The secret is, poetry slams are about YOU. We want YOU to have a great experience, to leave the venue feeling inspired. Maybe you might even pick up your pen, find that old notebook you’ve so long neglected, and start writing. Then comes the healing, the gush, the plunge, the heart-explosions, the gut-spillage, the brain splatter, and the love of poetry.
We want poetry to grow in our communities, to touch lives. We want to give poets the opportunity to grow in their careers and be paid handsomely for their work (one problem poets confront is that the public generally believes that art should be a public service and the artist a financial martyr). But it remains difficult to convince venues and parties to pay poets unless the audience and public believes poetry is a viable form of entertainment.
Hence, poetry slams.
Oh, what could it be? A baseball game? A boxing match? A NASCAR race? Not exactly.
But it can just as entertaining, imbued also with a consciousness you won’t find in any other type of competitive sport. Our strongest muscles are our lightning-fast tongues and at the end of the day, we want to make you cry or smile or laugh or feel SOMETHING. So that’s the real Ultimate secret of the Poetry Slam, that, as Allan Wolf said…
“The points are not the point. The point is the poetry.”
But sometimes, our expectations for women contradict, creating a tension between conflicting desires. Women are expected often to be demure, to be quiet, though at the same time then exuding passion through sex. There also exist contradictory ideas about beauty, whether it be skinniness or big breasts or big hips, whatever. People will also expect you to be something, bigger, smaller, smarter, taller, with better teeth. In the end, it’s pointless to actually cater to these expectations.
Therefore, I encourage all women to “fuck what I want.” Just stop caring about what I think women should look like or act like or be like, because I’m not the one living your life, you are. Or what anyone thinks, honestly, because it will just make you miserable, considering the fact that it will be impossible to live up to men’s expectations.
This is the simple message in this poem, which I performed
Take some time to check out this online radio interview with Chris Pendergrast on his show “Echo Cast.” I talked with him for approximately 10 minutes about my inspiration for poetry, the process of writing poems, and the particulars of the poem “Fork,” which came from a story concerning my speech impediment.
I also discuss the “Fun Home” controversy, Roberto Jones’ haven for artists, the meaning of truth in poems, and upcoming projects.
Other artists are also featured, and you should listen to their music and interviews as well. To hear me, go to minute 40 and take a listen. I am very excited to have made connections on Soundcloud and have begun to find a wider audience for my spoken word poems. Enjoy and make sure to comment.
You can find the interview here:
Also, make sure to check out Chris’s music here: https://soundcloud.com/chris-pendergraft
And his art here: http://chrispendergraft.deviantart.com/
Recently teamed up with a creative team of actors and filmmakers, most notably my friend and burgeoning artist
Roberto Jones, to create a short film. The film, styled in the tradition of French New Wave Cinema, depicts two lovers as their relationship evolves into something substantial though lacking communication. The film trails the production and dissolution of language, the non-verbal communication of intimacy, and the messy memories of post-break up. I wrote the script based on some suggestions from the director, forming a script that was actually also a poem. Check out the poem and video here:
In late February, South Carolina Representative Garry Smith punished the College of Charleston for its choice of College Reads! book, which was Alison Bechdel’s tragi-comic Fun Home. Although the state’s funds did not actually fund the College Reads! Program, the state legislature chose to cut $52,000 in funding to the College. This caused quite the kerfluffle among CofC students, including myself, who began a series of protests against the legislature’s decisions. This coincided also with the appointment of Glenn McConnell as College president after a politically dubious search process. On Monday, we held another protest, as Fun Home the Musical came to Charleston. Having watched the show myself, I hope it great success and also hope that the play helps spread the message of how homophobia can destroy people’s lives.
I read the following poems at last Friday’s protests:
Several writers across the country have also spoken up about academic freedom, information for which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/outloudsc
Find media on the protests and controversy here:
dangling from his shoulder as he
stretches onto his side in the Cistern’s shadow mosaic,
his crisp blazer folded beneath his white crown.
When I approach to ask
if he might sign a petition for everyone
to start loving one another, he lowers his book and
wordlessly draws a pen from his breast pocket, and leans
forward to grab the clipboard.
Panera Bread gives no days off,
no fake sick days of water-tower fame,
no Michigan Avenue Beatles musical
where the world joins in for the sake of spontaneity.
Turkey and Swiss smell less romantic
than sprinting home with five minutes to spare,
or saving our friends from abject misery.
Just coughing up nostalgia,
I recall the vibration of
a leather steering wheel.
Should have driven somewhere new,
when we still had time, still had mileage.