The Magic of Open Mic Poetry: Why We Should Support Open Mics, Even When We’ve “Outgrown” Them

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

Go ahead, light a candle. Take the shot of tequila. Or espresso. Strap on the gladiator heels. Slip a notebook into your purse or tote or pocket. Get nervous, maybe, heart-sweaty. Sneak into the restroom and practice in front of the mirror. Rehearse standing still, holding your hands by your side so they will not dance with abandon. Go out and meet the others. Dap and pound and hug and shake hands and kiss cheeks. Greet the poets, the temporary saints of whatever cafe or church or dive bar where you will worship. When there remain spaces to sit, sit. If not, remain standing. Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. This is no place for golf claps or appreciative murmuring, but rather the noise that bodies only ever make in celebration or orgasm.

This is an open mic poetry night in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

There is something holy about sharing oneself on stage. Whether we share our trauma or our joy, our stories or our songs, our blessings or our forgiveness, poetry becomes a burden we share. Every second Friday of the month, I travel back to Charleston, SC to attend Poetry Night at Eclectic Café. Half of those weeks, I take on hosting duties, by now a reflexive role. Step onto stage, start telling a few jokes. Introduce the poets, get out of the way. Sometimes planning open mic nights becomes stressful, especially the search for suitable featured poets who perform in the midpoint of the evening a thirty to forty minute set. Poets, young and old, arrive before seven o’clock, and they—some with extreme trepidation—sign their names onto The List.

What is routine is also in a way a ritual. Although I no longer attend any church or religious institution, I attend open mics with a serious devotion. Sometimes I even jokingly refer to the stage as the pulpit. The poets & musicians, the monologue-practitioners & amateur comedians, they bring with them a special kind of magic that transforms every room into a sanctuary.

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

The venue itself is beautiful—these days we perform at Eclectic Café, a café-restaurant-vinyl store-performance space-hybrid. But the venue has changed countless times throughout the years, and yet the spirit remains the same.

It has always surprised me to hear poets discuss poetry that engages the world as if there exists any other kind of poetry. Some poets scoff at the notion that poetry might be anything other than esoteric, that it might consider politics, culture, race, class, and local issues, and yet these too are worthy of our attention. Perhaps more-so than flowers and the belly-button-gazing self. Open mic poetry typically speaks to the world directly.

But there persists a staunch elitism, especially among academic poets, concerning open mics. They claim that open mic nights inevitably procure mediocre and uncomplicated poetry, and that listening to “bad” poetry is a waste of their time. And yes, after hosting poetry shows for four years, I have certainly listened to my fair share of poorly-written verse, but the point of poetry is not to create some unassailable and unsurmountable

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

body of work. There’s a sense in the broader poetry world that open mics exist only for amateurs, that a professional poet’s words must be read in hallowed halls, in libraries.

Poetry, when read out loud, demands our attention. It demands we take seriously what the poet has to say. Of course there exists beautiful poetry that exists for its own sake—to be beautiful, to be transcendent. But poetry too is a tool of communication. Although I rapaciously consume new books of poetry every month, I understand the majority of the reading public does not actually read poetry.

 

Let me repeat that—the majority of the public that reads generally do not invest time in reading poetry. Which is, I know, a detriment—reading and considering poetry leads one to leave a more rich life. But how should we expect average people to engage with poetry when we keep it in a high tower, when we publish it in obscure literary magazines. Even the most well-respected literary journals do not reach the ears of what one might term “the average person.”

Instead, we must bring poetry to the people. Open mics are the public spaces through

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Cred: Marlanda Dekine

which we share our love for poetry. Perhaps the first-time poet will read a poem you find dull or poorly written, but then is it not in your interest—in the interest of capital-P Poetry—to invest in that person? To encourage that person to continue writing and write then something transcendent and challenging?

Open Mics become venues to vent frustration, to celebrate triumphs, to express rage, to critique social practices, to build community. Every time someone unloads their worries into a microphone, we must share that burden. That story becomes not only something insular but something that may exist outside of the person, carried on the shoulders of dozens of strangers. Because here’s a hard and strange truth.

Four years ago, I started The Unspoken Word with a fellow poet at an odd dive bar called King Dusko. I have since attended hundreds of poetry shows throughout the country and even some around the world. Of course seeing your favorite poet read can be a sublime experience, but so too might be watching an amateur poet. A fifteen year old trembling at the microphone, holding in her hands a crumpled sheet of notebook paper, and on that paper is a poem. A poem that might tonight change your life or change your mind or change for a moment your perspective.

In this way, poetry allows us not only to emphasize with our fellow Earthlings but grasp their shoulders afterward, to commune with poets in your city. To say thank you.

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For the Love of Kesha

If you’ve heard me perform spoken word poetry set, you probably know I’m infatuated with The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Ke$ha. In “Ode to Ke$ha,” I wrote, “Who are you Ke$ha/ child of Los Angeles, food-stamp-subsister/ and perfect SAT student? Is this/ glitzed mask anything more than/ quiet genius, a woman’s willingness/ to speak in a world that tells her she cannot?”

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Kesha Rose, while masquerading as a pop artist, curates through her musical repertoire a series of thought-provoking social critiques and self-love anthems. The predecessor to artists such as Carly Rae Jepsen and the spiritual successor of artists like Avril Lavigne, Kesha translates trite emotionalism into a more transcendent message, whether that be about love, break up’s, oral sex, or the predatory tactics of paparazzi.  

Kesha Rose’s genius manifests when she reverses the paradigm of the male gaze in pop music. While Top 40 hits typically frame women as willing sex objects, subjects of desire designed to appease the sexual appetites of men, Kesha’s music– particularly her song “Disco Stick”– evokes similar images of men submitting sexually to women. She disguises an intelligent critique of pop music misogyny in a crass package. But the subversion of patriarchal pop music is just one of Kesha’s specialties. In “We Are Who We Are,” she affirms her support for LGBT rights and queer individualism, doubling down in 2016 during the contentious 2016 Presidential election.  

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Freshly-dubbed Kesha Rose has returned this week with a new song and accompanying music video “Praying,” a first glimpse into her upcoming album Rainbow. “Praying,” Kesha’s first solo release in four years, explores loss of faith and the tumultuous relationship with a former friend– who one suspects to be Kesha’s former producer and abuser Dr. Luke. The song is either a condemnation of Dr. Luke’s actions (in a recent court case, Kesha alleged that Dr. Luke sexually abused her and subsequently manipulated her creative control to prevent her from releasing music) or forgiveness. Perhaps a mixture of both.

I was H Y P E when I saw Kesha had released not only a soulful banger but also an absurd-yet-poignant music video. Dr. Luke abused Kesha to the point that she claimed she almost lost her life because it. Artistically and personally constrained by past drama, Kesha could not release solo music for more than four years. But y’all.

Kesha’s back, y’all. Kesha’s back.

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I believe Kesha Rose has long been underappreciated and maligned by media acolytes of the twenty-first century. They have misconstrued Kesha Rose as crass and banal, while her catalogue actually boasts a buffet of that good good.

And with her newest album Rainbow, I hope Kesha Rose gets the love she deserves.

Guest Blog: Tolerance (Or Lack of) On Social Media (Part 2)

{Yesterday, I post a blog from Will Victor (juggler, scholar, Taylor-Lautner-look-alike) on the Chik-fil-A controversy and its effects on Facebook feeds. Read Part 1 first, then commence with reading the rest. Share your thoughts below.}

Read Part 1

After having shared the said analysis of the online ideological war, you may ask me, “Will, why do you maintain your position in no mans land?”

You may tell me to listen to Danté, who once said that “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.” So, why remain neutral? Why choose to stay in “no man’s land?”

The answer to this inquiry lies not in that I have no opinions.  I certainly have opinions on these issues. In fact, I could tell you all that I personally think about every controversial topic from abortion to the social safety net. My neutrality lies not in that I don’t have an opinion—rather it lies in accepting the reality that every one of these controversial issues has two sides, and more often than not, the reasoning used to justify supporting either side is entirely valid under the assumptions upon which the opinion was based. To give an example, I will share with you two opinions on homosexual relations. The first will support the morality of homosexual relations, and the second will debase it.

In favor of:

“Due to advances in modern psychology and research, we as humans understand that homosexuality is not abnormal. Around 5 percent of the population of humans is homosexual, and homosexuality is not a choice. It is an orientation that is determined by biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Further, to hide from one’s identity and suppress homosexual urges is psychologically harmful according to the APA. Thus, homosexuals should be supported in their decision to have relations with one another.”

In opposition to:

“On planet earth, nature has defined laws that govern itself. We call the system of morality that arises from this fact “Natural Law.” In the context of homosexual relations, natural law can conclude that homosexuality is immoral because of the following: a penis is a human body part that is meant to fertilize an egg inside of a woman. An anus is meant to expel waste from the body. These two body parts are not meant to be put together. This is quite obviously the reason why homosexual relations are immoral.”

It is easy to see how these two pieces of evidence are based off of different assumptions. The former implies that what is moral should be defined by what is deemed “normal, and healthy” by scientific research in human psychology, while the latter defines moral as determined by “natural law.” This leads us to conclude that the argument that is occurring is not just about gay marriage, it is rather about some difference in each person’s concept of the source of morality.

It is quite easy to see in the example above that two arguments can be simultaneously valid because each one is based off of a different assumption. This is why I maintain my neutrality in these issues. I’m tired of people acting like the other side is completely crazy. Many fail to recognize that the opposition is using a different set of assumptions to create their argument.

Maybe, if we better understood this, we would stop throwing ideological grenades at one another. And when everyone noticed that the mortars stopped exploding they would poke their heads out of the trenches, and approach one another peaceably. Maybe then people would start to explain their respective worldviews and either agree to disagree, or search for real compromise.

It is my hope that the armistice will come soon because I genuinely dislike watching the sentimental Facebook Christmas stories be eaten up by the bombs of ideological warfare on my mini-feed.

In Defense of “Fat-Bottomed Girls”: The Tricky Balance of Body Image

There is a thin– literally– line between healthy and dangerously skinny. Also between obesity and healthiness. There are two ends of an ever-expanding spectrum of the idea of “normal” body weight and image, but I am not– not today– going to address the issue of obesity. Instead, I’d like to discuss anorexia, body image, and modeling.

Modeling? Derek, you know nothing about that other than that conversation you had once with an Abercrombie model over Frosted Mini Wheats once and the fact that your girlfriend watches Project Runway. Well, sure, I don’t know much about modeling, but I do know what I find attractive. And the truth is, I don’t find many professional models attractive. Not so much in a sexual way: I’m sure most guys could be sexually attracted to a bag of rocks. But as far as character goes, modeling and the stigmas surrounding it make me a little sick.

Yes, I am also not a psychological expert on the teenage body image. I am not a sociologist or doctor. But I did spend four years in a public high school, so that seems like qualification enough.

There has been much conversation recently about modeling in general, the expectations for model, and how this translates for the psyches of adolescent girls. The most recent attack on a model was Kate Upton.

Let me introduce you to one of the foremost “thinspiration” blogs skinnygossip.com. While masquerading as a blog that helps girls lose weight, it really shames celebrities and young girls about their bodies. It promotoes ultimate skinniness, and when I say skinniness, I mean starving-having-eaten-in-days skinny.

What’s so unhealthy about aspiring to be skinny, though? There comes a point where being skinny becomes an addiction. I completely understand the desire to look good, be attractive, but when girls strive for “the xylophone look” with their full rib cage on display, I feel like that might be a tad ridiculous. What we try to write off as crazy, however, has become a normal notion for many girls, especially adolescents.

Now, I get annoyed just as much as others by the down-your-throat preaching of love-yourself gurus. It is a natural human instinct to try to improve yourself. If a girl or guy tries to became fit, that’s absolutely admirable. But we must understand that there just because you’re thin, that doesn’t inherently make you beautiful nor healthy.

I also am not just some guy with a fetish for big girls; I also think obesity has overwhelmed us, but shame, ridicule, and bullying is not the way to reconcile these problems. Instead, we need to approach building a healthier future with positive thoughts and energy toward exercise and good diet, not starvation and bulimia.

There is simply a misunderstanding involved, and the shaming creeps into our common vocabulary with phrases like “she eats like a man.” Sure, biologically men have higher metabolisms, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule. I know many athletic girls who are very attractive but not exactly skinny– no, they have muscle and toned bodies that reflect a healthier way of living.

Magazines and modeling agencies glamorize only the skeletons, only those who live in misery because of their habits. I’m not saying girls can’t be naturally skinny; I think that too is attractive. But if a girl must starve herself into thinness, then that lack of confidence, that lack of self-esteem translates as unattractive. What we should really emphasize is pride in our bodies and their amazing feats, not an empty worship of the rib cage.

Because I work in a photography studio, I know plenty of tricks with Photoshop. I could warp anyone into a fig tree figure, but it would of course not reflect their natural look. It would instead be a pale shadow of their beauty and personality, an emaciated cardboard fake. So whenever you see these too-thin models on magazine covers, remember how easy it is to alter appearances. As far as airbrushing’s contribution to girls’ self-esteem, that’s a topic for another day, but still one that needs much discussion.

I just wanted to state my own opinion on this. What I find attractive isn’t particularly “thick” or “thin” girls, but instead the confidence to accept who you are and not try to the point of death to be what you may never be able to be. Instead, if you don’t like your body, attempt to keep healthy, not simply starve yourself; this twisted idea of beauty is simply unflattering, and the sooner teen girls see that those attacking their bodies are doing so only to make themselves feel prettier, the better.

Sources:

http://www.booksnreview.com/articles/527/20120718/kate-upton-fires-back-anorexic-website-skinny.htm

http://www.skinnygossip.com/kate-upton-is-well-marbled/#more-2233

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/01/most-models-meet-criteria-for-anorexia-size-6-is-plus-size-magazine/

http://www.parentdish.com/tag/anorexia/

http://www.anfocal.ie/lifestyle/468/still-waiting-for-a-size-revolution

http://itsallstyletome.com/2012/02/01/the-skinny-on-skinny-a-new-look-for-new-york-fashion-week/

Share your thoughts in the comment section!