In the Telling

Slam Poetry

November 29, 2019 Season 1 Episode 21
In the Telling
Slam Poetry
Chapters
In the Telling
Slam Poetry
Nov 29, 2019 Season 1 Episode 21
Liz Christensen / Jesse Parent
Slam Poet Jesse Parent deep dives on what technique and craft he is employing behind the emotional experience he is painting in his competition and writing.
Show Notes Transcript

Guest Jesse Parent talks about Slam Poetry and shares some performances for this final episode of “In the Telling’s” first season.  We’ll back in 2020 with some really exciting surprises. 

You can catch up on our back catalog and find out more about “In the Telling” at lizzylizzyliz.com
Theme music by Gordon Vetas

“In the Telling” will be back with its second season in 2020.  



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Speaker 1:
0:00
Touching on the two specific emotional values. That's a really important for me like comedy and tragedy or comedy and something else is like, it just, I feel like it's a very, it's a meal.
Speaker 2:
0:11
The voice you just heard belongs to Jesse parent.
Speaker 1:
0:14
Uh, my name is Jesse parent. I am a performance poet or slam poetry slam means I compete at an international level. I am also a improv comedian, which means that when I do comedy it's usually on stage with a bunch of people and no script and no idea what we're really going to be doing, uh, outside of a loose format. I'm also an internationally ranked public speaker with Toastmasters placed in the top 30 speakers in the world last year and I am a storyteller and that's all my hobbies. But my profession is I am a software engineering manager
Speaker 2:
0:48
who joined me to talk about slam poetry and share some performances with me for this final episode of in the tellings first season. We'll be back in 2020 with some really exciting surprises. I'm your host Liz Christiansen and it's all in the telling.
Speaker 2:
1:13
Welcome to episode 21 with my guest, Jesse parents. Jesse is a slam poet and if you don't know what that is, you'll learn, you'll hear and if this interview hits you like it hit me, you might both laugh and cry. Jesse's performance that you'll hear near the end of this interview got me. And that's why I've done something with this interview that I've never done before. I've bleeped out some of his language, but not all of it. Somewhere in the middle of this interview, Jesse and I get to talking about how he is played with the notion of using an offensive hook to catch the audience at the top of his poem and then using the rest of the poem to win them back. I've bleeped out the words in that section that some of my audience might find offensive, but kept the discussion intact.
Speaker 2:
2:00
I didn't want you to miss out on nerding out with me about this tool and the craft of performing and the construction of material that grabs you. But when Jesse performs two of his poems near the end of the interview, I've not edited a thing. Now I prefer to produce family-friendly content, but that line isn't totally clear for me and I'm not uncomfortable with what I heard from Jesse's final poems. I want his performances to stand as he intended, as how I experienced them. So here's my first ever content advisory. Near the end of this interview, the bleeping of any language will stop and my guest provides an experience through the performance of his art and craft. That may not leave you completely at ease or unruffled. And if you're not interested in that, that's okay. You'll hear Jesse explain that his poetry never has the intent to do damage to a person. But if you are interested in the experience that Jesse provides, the experience that happened to me, carry on. Okay. That's that listener discretion has been advised. Slam poet means that you compete
Speaker 1:
3:11
what slam means. It really does. Yeah. When, when you take away the performance side and you throw in slam, it means that you're a competition poet. That you operate within a certain set of rules such as you are reciting what you have written. Uh, you are clothed. You don't have any props in, you are operating with a time limit. This reminds me of speech and debate in high school. In fact, a lot of my poetry has been used evidently in speech and debate in high school and colleges. I didn't know that that was a thing. There's evidently some performance aspect of either forensics or debate that takes place. And uh, I have a friend who also does poetry slam who was a debater in, at for the UW. And he, um, he would talk about seeing my poetry being used all the time or using other people's poems that he knows in our community.
Speaker 1:
4:06
And I was just floored by that. I didn't quite get it, but I was very flattered. And what are some of the rules like for slam? Yes. So here are some of the rules. One of them is that you give five people in the audience who you do not know and optimally have never seen a poetry slam a scorecard. A, when they have that scorecard, they listen to poems and they assign a numerical value between one and 10. Uh, one being a poem that is loathsome and vile and horrifying and the poet has to hire a handyman to clear out the residents out of your ears and attend is something so outrageously beautiful and wonderful. You depart your body wholly and ascend towards heaven. And in between there, there's a real score. We use one decimal place. It's kind of like Olympic scoring where you take the lowest score in judge and the highest scoring judge and get rid of their score.
Speaker 1:
4:56
And in the middle it goes from three to 30, right? The other rules are that you are operating within a three minute time limit, which is about how much humans have, uh, for watching commercials as far as the tolerance goes. And you have, I think about 10 seconds of grace period. Normally in 20 seconds on a final stage when the energy is like really crazy. And if you go past that time limit, you start deducting points. So if you've got a 30 and you go 20 seconds over your time limit, that's a 0.5 for every 10 seconds. So it's a whole point. You would get a 29 terrible right. But that could really lose you a slam. You have to perform a things that you have written. I, there is some sampling allowed, but you can't do it on attributed. You have to not use props.
Speaker 1:
5:40
Not nothing too that would artificially enhance the Pullman in any way. Like pointing to your watch and saying like, look, we got time. We've got time. So now even like charade level gestures. Oh, you can just grade level gestures. In fact, I do a lot of Sheree level dress gestures, uh, because a lot of my performance comes from sign. So I use a lot of silent, what to call it, the sign language classifiers, which are object descriptions with your hands, but you can, you cannot go and grab something that is just for you. You can grab something that's around you like a chair and use that or something in the audience. Something that's accessible to everyone, but nothing that you bring on stage with. You can't have a backpack or use my coat. Right. In fact, there was a poet in our local scene that used his backpack a lot and he referred to his backpack and got himself, uh, eliminated. And uh, we had a high school student who took off her shirt. You have to be closed. Do you have any clothes? No nudity and no musical instruments, but you can sing. Uh, and there are some slams where someone might sing the whole thing or they might rap or something like that. There's a slam in Texas that has a clear singing rule that says you cannot have singing for more than 30% of your performance. Yeah.
Speaker 3:
6:49
Okay. Is there a minimum on that time limit?
Speaker 1:
6:52
There actually is not. It's something that Muslims don't have. A minimum is not like a Toastmasters where you have some, some range that you have to fall into, but the judges can tell if you do 30 seconds and everybody else is doing three minutes storytelling that just tears your heart out and you get up there and fart around for 30 seconds, then you are definitely not going to be the one that's winning that slam unless you have something really compelling to say in that 30 seconds that just floors people. For the most part it's, you know, you'd need to go up to three minutes and with a ten second grace period, anything before that is just fine.
Speaker 3:
7:27
You differentiated this a little bit from performance poetry. So I would assume then that performance poetry is anything that breaks those rules.
Speaker 1:
7:35
Well, it can be anything. I, I've seen, you know, multimedia that's uses projections on screen to enhance, uh, that's, that's really interesting. It could be accompany with a musician. It could be something that, uh, you, you have theatrical things going around you and that's super interesting. But the slam format is generally everybody who is on the stage has written something to do in that poem that's in, in team slam. It's, there are other rules when I'm primarily talking about poetry slam as a singular event or as a singular performer, but I also do team slams, which means that you can have multiple voices on stage. There is a lot of rules that come into primary authorship for example. So you can't just have like one writer and three performers doing poems all night and there is other things like it kind of couples into that primary authorship. The idea of that you have everybody on stage that's actually written something and that you only can have up to a certain amount of members on your team that are in that performance in some fashion.
Speaker 3:
8:37
So yeah, so unlimited group and they're all kind of collaborating. I would imagine that it's like Greek chorus style and some sound collage things happen that they can, and I like that because
Speaker 1:
8:46
I come from theater, so I dig on soundscaping. In fact, I have a poem called Legion that is about, my mother is multiple and her her dissociative identity disorder and there's a lot of soundscaping that is created in that. Mostly when you see a group piece, unfortunately you're seeing the same things said by a couple of people almost the whole time. You try to use it to create experiences. Events. The worst ones I think are the ones where it's just three people saying the same thing for the whole poem. Just standing there doing nothing else but yelling and that's kind of the worst example of it. The best example can be physically changing the space, changing levels, using voices to represent different people coming together, creating soundscaping like you, like you mentioned Greek chorus types of events. Those are really fun and I think very compelling.
Speaker 1:
9:41
Why did you go into slam? Like what attracted you to this? I started doing slam because I found performance poetry on a show called HBO Def poetry. It was uh, in the early two thousands, I think that it was going on. I really liked it. I liked the [inaudible] of it. I like the monologues of it, the narratives. But I saw one group called Floetry where it was two women who just seamlessly put together, they're singing in their poems and had them kind of diverged and come together. And it was just beautiful. And I, I was doing a lot of improv theater at that point and I was also teaching a class called four weeks of forum where we either take an established improv form and practice it until we were at performance level or we would invent something. And my idea was, I don't like musical improv because I don't want to tote around a musician.
Speaker 1:
10:40
So why not create something that's has a lot of musicality to it and started to deconstruct, well, what is this? What do I like about this? And creates improvise slam poetry that we used as a deconstructive element of the improvise scenes and we could feed back into it. And also we're creating acapella, this chorus plus beet plus melody and using that as our backdrop as well. And it really clicked with a lot of people when we started touring nationally. And ironically, I hired a bassist to come along and provide some accompaniment who was, who eventually became the husband and one of the performers. And when I got honored with this title of an artistic associate of the Chicago improv festival, and I just looked at myself and went, Whoa, where do I go with this now? What am I going to do? I, I don't know if I want to turn this forever and started to reflect on some of the poems that I had done, improvised and write them down and workshop them and went onto this website called, got poetry.com and uh, workshopped it online and then went to our local slam.
Speaker 1:
11:46
I didn't really even know that existed at that point in 2006. And they had an improvised poetry slam. I know improv, I can do this. And went in there and I was the only one that was improvising and started doing some of the stuff that I had written. And it was very different because it was theatrical because it had narrative structures. Most of the folks that were on stage were doing more lyrical poetry things that you would say, Oh, that's absolutely a poem because I can see the imagery and I can see that this has been, this is highly rot and, and so forth. And there's a lot of rib cages being mentioned, I don't know. And then, uh, started winning and I made the national, I made the team that went to nationals that year in 2007 to Austin and we took second to last. So take that Kalamazoo, uh, in flash forward to 2018 then we were fourth in the world. So it's a, it's been quite a journey. It's, but all comes from theater. It all comes from theater.
Speaker 3:
12:40
When you say you're using a narrative structure, you're talking about like an inciting incident and a rising action, a climax and a Daniel and other people are just like flowers and the imagery.
Speaker 1:
12:50
Yeah. And their structure obviously in there too. And also using three X structures and saying, okay, we, we've, we're, we're bringing this up. We're having our climax, uh, even using a lot of improv trickery, like the end is in the beginning and like looking back and saying, okay, this is how I'm going to end this poem by like tie it all up in a neat little button using patterns and uh, that was not something that the local scene was doing, but I started becoming more and more successful doing that and started to push the scene towards that kind of structure towards that type of approach. I guess.
Speaker 3:
13:20
That makes sense. Talk to me about Ryan. Does this have to rhyme?
Speaker 1:
13:24
Nope. I, in fact I can count on my hand the number of times in the last 10 years I've seen a PO that rhymes on stage. Yeah. That just isn't really done. Sometimes you'll encounter a hip hop artist that will be on stage and they will, they'll, they'll bring like a lot of artistry, a lot of great art to it. I, I can't really describe it other than than it's re it's highly composed. People recognize the skill and the craft for the most part, it gets in the way of folks storytelling. And the other part is if you're bad at it, there's a game in slam called guest the rhyme and I guess Whitney knows the slam can be pretty Savage. The idea is it's very interactive so you get all of the tropes of snapping and clapping and like hooting and hollering. But if something's offensive or something just doesn't jive, there's also booing and there's hissing and if you're bad at rhyming in the audience guesses your rhyme as you're saying it.
Speaker 1:
14:21
It can be very upsetting when they're saying it. They'll still see, yell out the rhyme that doesn't really take place anymore because you don't really see rhyming any that much in modern slam probably might've seen when it was just starting off and people were like, well, what is this? What am I doing? And and what is lamb? And and going up and competing with highly constructed rhyming poetry that is a varying levels of good and bad. That was probably taking place on more in like the early nineties I mean you could write a slam poem and I often do in your classic, you know, versus unstructured and stances, but I could easily write it as pros and, and it wouldn't be harder for me to memorize maybe, but it's, it just sells that way. You could, you could easily write most of those poems that I see performed in a slam as a more prosey structure.
Speaker 3:
15:12
It sounds so ignorant, but go with me. How can you tell them that it's poetry? I mean I can see how you can tell it slam because it's going to fit these rules and it's going be performed live and the guy or the woman who wrote it is performing it. But if you took all that away and you hadn't me pages of it, how do I know that it's meant to be slam poetry as opposed to something else?
Speaker 1:
15:33
You don't, I mean that's, that's, that's a super good question there. You shouldn't. If you see something that is so evidently meant to be performed and devoid of metaphor in structure and alliteration and so forth, perhaps that's not a good slam pong. Maybe that's a great rant. Maybe it's still scores very well. That's just fine. I often tell people that I'm not really a poet. I'm a monologist that sells well at slams and there are certain things that I do. I have a poem that got put up by a YouTube channel called right about now poetry and it's just this, this free write I did about what if a clown didn't recognize how creepy they were and you just kind of progress and someone, someone commented on the video. Well, where's the metaphor? Like, you're right, there is absolutely no metaphor. This is about me trying to paint an emotional experience and perform it on stage.
Speaker 1:
16:25
I still won a regional slam with it against a world ranked poets, but it's, it's definitely an experience. It's, for me, poetry is a pure distillation of emotion. It's something that you, you, you don't really get in any kind of other format of, of uh, of writing or performance. It's something that really like nails in emotional event and hopefully it nails to specific emotional events so it gives you some variants but that's just the way that I approach, uh, when I right now if you were to sit down and say, well what makes us a poem? The only thing I can say is because I said that it is and that's that the other parts are what did you feel at the end of it? And you granted you can write good pros and make somebody feel something very specific and good storytelling and make something, someone feel very specific but really good slam poetry is indistinguishable from really good page poetry.
Speaker 1:
17:20
It might be more accessible. There's a Billy Collins quote that I really love and Billy Collins was a former port lowered Laureate of the U S and he says, you have to treat poetry like an eye chart. Everyone should see the E but if you squint you ought to get a little bit more. And I just love that because it says a K, you know, poetry can be leveled. You if you've got folks who are getting your general how big sweeping thesis, that's wonderful. But if someone catches another element of it, well that's beautiful too. And that's why I always tell folks that I coach and I say, you know, you should write, sure you gotta write your line for Bubba so that people get it. But you ought to write a line for you and anybody who gets the line for you, that's going to be an ex best friend.
Speaker 1:
18:06
So slam ultimately the point of it really is that performance aspect. Yeah. And I suppose to exist on the page. Uh, I don't think that that's true. I think that it can exist on the page, but the focus of most slam is to cause a reaction or to cause a feeling. I would also argue that a lot of people approach slam, but as the point is to win, there is an old saying in slam that carries forth, and I can't recall the first person who ever said that, who said the points are not the point. The point is the poetry. And then someone changed that and said, no, the points are not the point. The point is the people, and the idea is you bring something out of the darkness of academia, the idea that poetry isn't accessible to the, to the normal person that you can't possibly get into this.
Speaker 1:
18:58
And unless you have three MFAs and bring it back to that element where it was created in the spoken form, you know, spoken word has been around for a millennia. To think that it was, it's something new is, is a little bit ignorant, but the, the part of it that says, I'm going to bring it back to the people is very empowering. And that was the whole point when it was first created it as this competition aspect of appealing to the competitive nature of you know, Americans and the idea that like, wow, you know, they're going to win and what's the tension here? And the tension really is about how do I fool you until they paying attention to something that I'm arguably calling poetry, uh, for X amount of minutes and to get you to hoot and holler and cheer as if you were at a football game.
Speaker 3:
19:43
There is a, not just an a tolerance or an acceptance, but there isn't a full blown embracing of the fact that a slam poetry audience is going to have what other performance arts might consider poor etiquette.
Speaker 1:
19:55
Yes. And that is a wonderful point. A lot of folks, when they think about going to poetry readings and I go to a lot of poetry readings, it's super quiet and it's very unnerving for me because I want to clap at the end of every poem. The poetry just gets up there and they're reciting their work and they keep going. And then they're there, they're done. And they said, but this next piece is going to be about my mother's death, coinciding with the rhinoceros. And you, you want like, Oh, I want to acknowledge you and I want to tell you that I really enjoyed this. But folks want to be polite. So the very first thing that I do as a host, as an emcee, as I say, Hey, look, this isn't your grandpa's poetry reading that we need you to react. We need you to be a part of this.
Speaker 1:
20:33
You're as much a part of this as the poets get on stage. So we need you to say, Hey, I like this. I'm don't want to interrupt you. I'm going to snap, or I'm going to clap. It's okay to laugh. It's okay to cry. It's okay to also negative react. Uh, I said before that we encourage people to boo. If you don't like something you, BU if you think something's misogynistic, you hiss. Uh, you know, there's, there's all kinds of ways to immediately give feedback to the poet that like you have EFT up son. It's a great way to test your art honestly. And that's what I really like about slam is like the immediate feedback of, Oh, nobody likes this. I need to go fix this. I need to go edit, I need to go maybe throw this away, I need to move you put this down and come back to it later.
Speaker 1:
21:18
But when you get those scores back, I mean that's also a sampling of, well what do people think? You try to go with the mid range again, you know, you don't go with that person who just, you know, you fooled into taking a scorecard and they're super grumpy about the fact that they're a judge. They just came to sit around and everybody's booing them whenever they give you a low score or somebody who's just like, I don't know what to do. And everybody gets tens. You try to settle into what, what's the median? These five random people that don't know me. What's the medium opinion at this point?
Speaker 3:
21:46
Do you have people who, because it's attracting a competitive type person on some level who's like, yeah, I want this. I want you to BU and I want you to hiss, but then I want to flip that on you so that by the end you're pleased are the, are the people who are trying to play with that?
Speaker 1:
22:02
Yes, I do that a lot. I, there's also one of my mentors in the early days of my slam career, his name is Morris stegosaurus and he would do poems that would get a four and a 10 and you're like, what's happening right now? But he was really about messing with the audience and creating some kind of an event and maybe really pissing people off, but then like a suddenly coming back from the edge or just saying something that's really controversial and say like, okay, hold on a second, let's think about this. And then deconstructing it. That's a lot of fun to me. There's a poem I do called Pez. CZ was created because a friend of mine gave up writing prompt of how come nobody writes a line at the very beginning. The first line that really sucks you in. And like everybody wants to take you on a journey.
Speaker 1:
22:49
It's like, what if you just bust the door open? And so, uh, uh, I, I wrote this line that was a ridiculously offensive, uh, that goes, she had a face, like a bag of smashed but gave more than a crate of Pez dispensers. And with that phrase, grandma's eulogy was off to an interesting start. And it's ultimately about a really complicated relationship between my grandparents and the idea that, uh, even in this outrageous moment, you can't judge a person's love from the outside. You have to recognize that, uh, some people are weird, they have idiosyncrasies, they have parts of their relationship that are just bonkers, but at the same time they love each other and their love doesn't look like your love doesn't look like somebody else's love. And so that was ultimately the thesis of the poem. It's, but like the idea was to really like kick the door open and go like, okay, can you follow me? Can you stay with me? That's fun for me. That's like, how much can I push you before it's irredeemable and I can't come back from this?
Speaker 3:
23:52
How nerve wracking was that to the front of the first time though? Like were you, were you confident you had approach to the line as far as you wanted, but that you could pull them back or were you like, I might really fail tonight?
Speaker 1:
24:02
Uh, yeah. I mean, there was honestly was more of a, let's see what happens. Yay. Uh, so, so for me it wasn't really about nerves or being concerned that it might, uh, offend too much when I first started anyway, as I started to go more and more to my career and you have more folks who are, Hey, you shouldn't be doing that. Or they're folks who ultimately will just scored you online for any misstep. I tended to do that little bit less and less, but I do pull it out every now and again when I need to get the audience to pay attention. Uh, I call it a bar poems. When you're in a bar and people are there to drink, they're not here for poetry. It's a something that I'll bring out that's, that's a, an attention grabber and maybe quiet through them. And I did that actually in Kansas and we were at some events that a person threw together to compete in, make sure that we qualified for nationals.
Speaker 1:
25:01
And I, and I offered to perform with a team that I wasn't on and we were in a bar where there was a bachelorette party that was not there for poetry and was definitely not interested in being quiet so that there could be poetry. And so I pulled out that poem and, and just quite at the bar for about three minutes and I was like, okay, that's fun. I worked and worked. Uh, I would hope you're doing this again. I actually took that impetus though and created a poem that was similar but did it in a, in a gentler way, uh, called hotbox love, which is about on the surface it's about being able to fart in front of your partner and be okay with that. And the idea that you have human things that you do and you, if you're going to find a human to be with for the rest of your life, you better be okay with doing these human things in front of the other person but ultimately is about palliative care. I didn't realize it but when the video video of that came out, uh, it started making the hospice routes, like the hospice folks were circulating this and talking about palliative care and like this is what it means to love someone with all these faults and this in and as they are approaching end of life and, and um, when you're feeling helpless. And so that was very comforting. I don't think Pez would've gone around.
Speaker 3:
26:17
That makes sense. That makes sense. These competitions, is there prize money? Do people make a living doing this?
Speaker 1:
26:23
The short answer is yes, there is prize money and people do make a living doing this, but they don't make a living on prize money. Usually the prizes, even though the points are not the points or the points don't matter, a winning does. Having accolades does being able to say I am a two time runner up at the individual world slam has definitely opened some doors for me, but there are other doors that can be open like you, you know, being published and getting other awards and so forth and so on. But that's definitely one of them. I was saying, you know when you're on a final stage at a poetry slam event, other poets, CU, other poets who are also, poetry's organizers see you and you start to generate buzz and you can go on tour and go to different slams and get paid for what you do.
Speaker 1:
27:07
And then ultimately the ones who really make their money, they go to NACA, which is this event where all these college event representatives come and watch you perform and then they get booked in college shows are very lucrative between that and touring and book sales. That's how most of the poets that I know that make a living doing this and only this are making their living college shoves. Yeah cause colleges have a lot of money. You can do like a $10,000 show and do like an hour set at some really ridiculously wealthy college. If I went to a college and did a 60 minute set and got paid $1,000, that would be just my mind. Me too. But most of the time you're going around these small slams. You're getting something like either a guaranteed stipend of a couple hundred dollars or a share of the door or pass the hat plus book sales, et cetera, et cetera.
Speaker 1:
27:59
You can make a lot of money if you have enough hustle or if you're going to places that are really appreciative of art. Talk to me about the Utah scene. Is there, is there a poetry slam scene here? Absolutely. In fact, now there are several, used to be primarily the salt Lake scene and the salt Lake scene when I first joined had been around since I think 1996 um, you had pioneers like Melissa Bond who really worked at establishing that scene. Jaguar Duffy, other folks, Shay, Brian, Brian's vinegar, the poetry slam scene started very small and then we got more and more folks coming to it and getting excited. We expanded it to two separate events. One that was out in Draper in another one that was down in salt Lake city and the one in Draper ultimately came into sugar house. So it was kind of fun because we had the sugar slam, the salt slam and now [inaudible] there's a little bit, we're, we're, we're borrowing too much from each other.
Speaker 1:
28:58
And uh, we recently lost our sugar venue, which was the Watchtower coffee because they're closing down as they move to their new venue and have to deal with health department stuff and so forth. And we're now in the Galivan center at wash that theater company. They've been wonderful. So we're really like close to downtown almost almost to our original venue cup of Joe's that got shut down due to gentrification down on a 200 South and about where the Galavan right when the Galvin center was being held, the Galvin center, I keep on saying that the gateway, the gateway, we are performing at the gateway, not the Galavant center. So right by the gateway before the wall, the gateway was being established. They get pushed out. We've been kind of nomadic, but the scene itself is very theatrical and very much about the experience about making you have have a, an experience in that slam.
Speaker 1:
29:48
We're also really burgeoned by the high school scene. The high school scene is hot, it's active. Uh, there's a guy named Steve Haslam at of copper Hills high school who's really pushed the entire high school community to start embracing this and everywhere. A few outliers that were already starting to play with it. My friend Joseph Kyle Rogan, he is the theater instructor over at skyline high school and he, he's one of the top coaches in the community there and he was also a teammate of mine. He's also my touring partner when I do duo improv as joker and gesture, he's the joker part of that duo. He has a great mind for theater, a great mind for narrative structures, great mind for a three X structures and so forth. So, so now you've got about 10 or 12 high schools that are competing often throughout the year and then they come together at one big event and they're just ridiculous.
Speaker 1:
30:37
And so we're starting to mind that we've gotten people like Jose Soto gotten people like Dorothy McGinnis out of that sort of scene. And now we're seeing folks like Sammy Walker who arguably could have been on the team last year but was too young. So these, these kids are coming through and killing everybody. We did a slam effect this week and the copper Hills kids, they took the whole thing. They were the last, they were the last poet standing beat out folks like RJ Walker who has been on final stages, both from the team and individual level and is also a viral poet. He's probably one of the most famous poets in salt Lake, uh, that does slam. And he also organizes an open mic every week at greenhouse greenhouse effect, coffee and creperie, uh, on 3,300 South and ninth East, uh, every Sunday about 7:30 PM he's been, he's carried that torch for years and that's been a great place for upcoming standups and musicians and poets to go and try their art out.
Speaker 1:
31:36
So it's a very collaborative scene where people are helping each other. They, uh, we, we, we know each other, but then they'll, there are scenes in Ogden, Utah that are coming into their own where we tried, there was a lot of borrowing from us for awhile, but now they're there. They're completely their own scene. Uh, there is down in Provo, there is rock Canyon poets. Uh, Trish Hopkinson organizes that and there's also another event that escapes me off the top of my head. Uh, that's more of a youth scene and Cedar city for a little while had a scene too. They had the wham bam, thank you slam. Uh, which is not my favorite name but you know, it's a, that's pretty cool. Pretty clever. But yeah, we're, we're starting to see more and more of that come out. The college scene for awhile was pretty happening.
Speaker 1:
32:23
The university of Utah had as team, Westminster college had a team, but I think that was more driven by personality that that organization, so the U has really dropped their poetry team in Westminster. I think they are still fielding events at the college nationals CUPSI the college union poetry slam invitationals what that stands for and it's akin to nationals and just for colleges though, I guess, I guess you should take a step back here for just a second. There are national events at almost every age level when you get past 14. There are things at the high school level that are done nationally, like brave new voices or larger events like louder than a bomb, which had a recent documentary done by Oprah on Oprah's network. And there's a college scene where there's CUPSI, which I just mentioned and that's for all of the colleges to come together and compete as teams.
Speaker 1:
33:17
And then there is the national poetry slam, which used to be run by poetry slam incorporated until it crashed and burned after 25 years in 2018. Uh, which was great because I was a member of their board and watching it crash and burn around me as I was also trying to prepare to go on final stage. That was a super fun time. They also organize at the adult level, the individual poetry, Sam, the woman in the world, poetry slam. Those events have sort of been taken over by other folks and we'll probably see a resurgence of the national poetry slam, which would be a team based and the women's poetry slam, which is anybody who identifies as female. A really, uh, famous poet, uh, named Rudy Francisco has taken over the individual poetry slam in San and put it in San Diego where it used to tour. You used to have this event just go be a bid on by different cities and just be hosted everywhere. Uh, but having it firmly planted in a city is, has been an interesting change. We'll see how that all evolves if people get tired of it or what have you. And there's a woman named candy, her real name's Sherry and she is organizing out of Dallas, the international poetry slam and the women's slam. So we'll see what happens there.
Speaker 3:
34:31
If somebody was thinking I would give this a try for a date night or like a weekend, what kind of tips do you have and advice for someone who's like, I'll go, I'm going to go check this out. As an audience members, as an
Speaker 1:
34:43
audience member, I would say just come with an open mind. We have folks who find us all the time and event bright for example, they'll see these in the, what is this? What's a poetry slam and be interested in being a active participant in a, an active audience member. Recognize that this is theater. This is the irreproducible moment. This is why I love theater. It's, you can't just film it and say, you know what it is you. If you're there and you're a part of that experience, you're a part of the show. The other thing is the be okay with your feelings and be safe with your feelings. Uh, we'll often in our introductions say, Hey, look, if you need to take a moment, take a moment. Like please leave. Or if poets want or posts are coming up and they're going to talk about some real trauma, they'll often get what's called a trigger warning and they'll say, Hey, trigger warning, and this is the topic I'm going to be talking about.
Speaker 1:
35:31
That's not common, especially in the adult scene. It's very common in the college scene where where people are a little bit more empathetic I think are a little, you know, aware or maybe even, I don't, I don't know what their motivations are always, but I would hope that it's pure in there. Just trying to say, Hey look, I'm about to do something. For example, the clown poem that I do, I always say trigger warning clowns because people are genuinely terrified of clowns. And I did that poem once in full clown makeup and some folks had to leave and that's fine by me. I'm not insulted by that. I'm trying to say, Hey, I'm going to do something that might cause some real harm to you and I don't want to cause harm. So I'm trying to give you an a warning. But for the most part, I think audiences, when they come to a poetry slam there, they don't quite know what they're going there for. And they're adventurous and they're, they, they're cool people who want, like to experience something they've never experienced before. So just, yeah, come with an open mind in a loud voice and the ability to snap.
Speaker 3:
36:31
I like that last one. Um, so what sort of advice and tips do you have for somebody who's going to try this and get there feet wet as a performer or a poet? As a, as a slam poet.
Speaker 1:
36:41
Don't take it seriously. This really slam can, if you take it too seriously, it can be so discouraging to go up there and you've got three rounds and you know you're, you're, you're not scoring well and you're never getting out of the first round because it's elimination because it's a made up competition. You know, your art's important, your voice is important, but also be receptive to feedback, be receptive to the audience saying, Hey look, you maybe you need to rewrite this friend, uh, or maybe this isn't working and you should try something different in your approach. The using that as an editing tool rather than a tool that reinforces that you are a good human is very important. And also to meet people it, you know, slam is a great community or it can be it just like any community, it has its ups and its downs.
Speaker 1:
37:34
But really finding someone that you connect to with an artistic level is super valuable and even collaborate with. And which is what team slam gives you is the ability to collaborate, to create something that you can never create by yourself. And that's a wonderful time too. But yeah, the, the, the ultimate thing that I try to advise people is to have fun being up on stage is in fact, uh, its own act of bravery and to not take yourself seriously and just keep coming back and keep honing your craft and recognize that this is a process.
Speaker 3:
38:08
Three rounds. Are you performing the same material each round? No.
Speaker 1:
38:12
So that's a great question. The usually the, the structure of a competition is not just you go up, you do a poem, you get a score and then you win. It's, you go up and we want to see how deep your pockets are. You're going to go up and do a poem and you're gonna get a score and then you're going to look at the scores of that round and say, okay, these four people made it and these two people did. And then you go do another round. Then it's, you've, you advanced advanced. So you went and went down to just a couple of poets and they're competing in that last round. And it could be that your scores are cumulative for the whole event or it could be that every round is a clean slate. Depends on how they run, run that slam. We actually run a two slams in both different ways.
Speaker 1:
38:53
So our sh our the sugar slam is a clean slate around around and the salt slam is cumulative and there's different strategies if you want, if you're the winning type that you want to follow for each one of those, uh, usually the clean slate is surviving kill at the last round and then a cumulative is when early and uh, coast. But [inaudible] that's, that's a very rule of thumb approach to like how I approach a strategy when I'm, when I'm looking at, okay, I've got three pumps to do, what's my order, here's my order. Uh, based on the rules and structure of this particular competition, depending on whether I'm there to win or they're to go test the material.
Speaker 3:
39:32
Yeah, you said three and then the beginning, middle end came to mind and I thought, I bet he's really cognizant of the composition overall of like how these three poems fit together. Then
Speaker 1:
39:41
he know that is also a great question. That is usually not a consideration. Seriously. Most folks who are going to do three rounds, they'll just do three poems and they pick their order. In fact, sometimes they are aware of the problems that they could have by repeating the same themes or structured. Uh, the young woman who won our last lamb did three poems in a row, all about black lives matter. And uh, that was the general theme of like, you know, black, uh, black people are human beings should be recognized as such, their lives matter and uh, about creating a moment of activism in all three poems like chain together and uh, there is another, there are other poets who usually will just, they'll do a, maybe a funny poem here in the first round because they want to get people excited. Then they'll do their sad poem and then they'll do something that is, that is their, their big closer.
Speaker 1:
40:35
Or maybe they're just going to experiment in the last round because they're so far ahead. But there are very few times you see truly resonant poems and that's actually something that salt Lake city as a community does do. When we go to the national level, we, since 2011 when you are doing a team slam, it's kind of like gymnastics or wrestling. You have individuals that contribute to the score of a team. Usually those individuals are completely on their own doing something different and you're just trying to figure out, okay, I've made sure that I follow the rules of this event, which are, no, a person can be on stage by themselves for two poems in a row on a team event or if they are on stage, they have to be with somebody else and share primary authorship and, and some other rules like that. What we do is we try to find a theme that goes through and we've done that since, uh, like I said since 2011 when we found the God boat and the God was Lucifer's letter to God than Adams letter to God than even Lilith's letter to God, God's response.
Speaker 1:
41:39
And so that was, that's a very rarely ever done. And we just floored the national scene. We started doing this and we kept doing this with other things. We did everything from a remote control, two different perspectives of Jesus to the last one that we did that got us onto final stage was the wizard of Oz. And it was very resonant to actually the God belt that we had. Where was the scarecrows a message to the wizard. But the scarecrows letter, a message to the wizard was, was about the, the poison of this gift and the idea of realism and, uh, the elitism that takes place in, in academia. And then the 10 man was, uh, was about depression and anxiety and the idea that a heart actually magnifies that. Then the cowardly lion was about the experience of an immigrant in America and the who were really the cowards, the, the folks that pursue them or, or the, uh, the lion.
Speaker 1:
42:32
And then w what we did was we put Dorothy and Oz who was also played by a femme, uh, doing a poem that was response saying that the, you know, the work that fems do for men and uh, how they, how they chick take a lot of burden on. And um, that was something that, like I said, you don't really see that kind of resonant structure. Usually it's just a poem that sits on its own. And then somebody else says a poem. And we're really proud of the fact that we have not necessarily pioneered this because it existed before us, but have really made it successful.
Speaker 3:
43:05
So at least very few people I imagine that are just randomly, these are my three poems and I've put no thought into tonal shift from one round to another.
Speaker 1:
43:14
You hope that's true. Uh, but I think for the most part, your average slam poet is not putting a lot of thought into that. They're just like, which phone do I do? There's a three I have memorized, which is so funny because I get into it with folks about who don't like to see folks reading off their phone or paper a big events. I'm like, why? You know, they're there. They're doing new art and it's not a memorization slam. It's a poetry slam. Nope. It's typically not. It's it I like to memorize because I, it frees up my hands to perform. I, it gives me more leeway. The former president of poetry slam incorporated Scott Woods, uh, very famously has never memorized a poem and uh, says I don't go, I don't have time for memorization. I got write. And he also has great tutorials on how to read off paper and what it means to perform with the poem in your hands.
Speaker 1:
44:15
There's also like some, some controversies about like whether or not you can turn that into a proper or whatever. Yeah. But, uh, but, but, uh, Scott Woods has this amazing poem called six in the morning that he does and it's all vocal. It's just all pacing. And it's about a gangster going to visit his dying grandmother who begs him to kill her. And he does. It's, it's so beautiful. And he's, he's, he's got so much in there that the, the, the imagery, the metaphor and the structure of it and, and the things where he, where he talks about like when he grabs the pillow, you know, it's the heaviest thing I ever held and you know, she kisses my hands as if they weren't stones. Even, even like the moments where, where he's talking about the grandmother begging him to kill her when she knows, you know, no one heaven, she has to see all the people that she loves.
Speaker 1:
45:04
She gets to when she wants to. And the, uh, the idea of like, you know, what does that paint for you? Yeah. He's, he's just so good at it. But no, that is absolutely not required to memorize. That said, you do have five people who are uninitiated and for the most part in slam watching you and judging you. And if you come up with paper and a lot of people are going up there without paper and doing some big performative event in their heads, they could be deducting points because they're like, yeah, that was great, blah. You hadn't had that memorized and they might put some value to that. Sure. Do you have some poetry that you can perform for me today? You bet. This will be really interesting for me because I found this on care CLI I picked upon that was highly performative and I had to completely change from a my big physical performances to D and I just reprogrammed it to go like, how am I going to do this?
Speaker 1:
45:56
Focally yeah, just to auditory as the only option. That's a, that's, that's always strange. The other one, yeah. There's, there's a few poems where I absolutely realize the terns absolutely rely on you being able to see me, which I guess is an accessibility issue in and of itself anyway, but so I'm going to have to be really selective with the poems I think about for those of you playing at home, I'm sitting down, which is not my optimal performance, uh, space, but I'm going to try to do this anyway because I think that it'll be an interesting way to shape the performance. Cool. My daughter tells me that she wants to start dating in a shrug. She tells me the name of her girlfriend and I shrug. Again, she tells me that I have to be careful because her girlfriend's parents don't know that she's gay.
Speaker 1:
46:47
And I pause. She tells me it's because her girlfriend's parents are religious and I want to say, well, so am I. That should matter. But while I have to admit that religion doesn't always build the closet door, it does tend to supply the lumber to plain it straight. After all, Jesus was a carpenter and knows the many uses of wood, how to hang plum. And I have reached the point of parental dilemma where I need to be honest with this girlfriend's parents, but she just needs to survive. My daughter praying to cross timber on an atheist rosary that her girlfriend will be where she left her alive and well hidden under a heap of clothes that her parents had bought for her. And I live a thousand in this decade
Speaker 4:
47:30
of hail Mary's where my daughter does not go to prom because her girlfriend has to go with a boy where my daughter is referred to as an aunt or a special friend where she is dragged behind someone else's closet door, applying another layer of lacquer and varnish until she blurs a little more everyday. So when I meet
Speaker 5:
47:51
this girlfriend's parents, I smile like a stack of toothpicks,
Speaker 4:
47:59
shake their hands to fuel for calluses,
Speaker 5:
48:02
splinters.
Speaker 4:
48:05
They choose their daughter's survival
Speaker 5:
48:08
over the truth. But I say a prayer, a silent vow
Speaker 4:
48:13
that I will take every door in my own home and feed it through a wood chipper until my daughter falls in love with the smell of sawdust. Well, no, that's great. Give me some more. You bet.
Speaker 4:
48:31
I suppose you're wondering what we're doing here under this comforter. Well, the truth is, darling, I am about to fart now. Before you get angry or flail madly or hold your breath, just hear me out. I'm not gonna pretend like this is going to be a walk in the Rose garden though. I'm no Sarah Pailin. This is going to stink. It might smell like stale popcorn, salted and asparagus or a cabbage brownie or something. So Velcro and foul. It clings to your pant legs like trash Jews. Some not a good judge of where these things are going to go. They call this the love test. Dutch ovens hotboxing. This is how you know you have someone special. It's not about how when you kiss and fall into each other's lips or how electricity conducts from your fingertips and to each other's bodies, what ancient languages you blurred out as you climax together simultaneously, our relationships, best moments are fleeting flashes of perfect, the untenable hold of joy and this is about those less than ideal moments. The times when we are simply human, a loosen to booger trap door opening and closing with every breath, finding unaware in a trashcan and we don't say a word. The conversations you have with each other on the toilet. If you can't love me in this awkward space and just live in this filthy stinking moment, what are you going to do when it really gets bad?
Speaker 4:
49:59
Can you still love me? Throwing up every hour, my bedside table, a heap of prescription bottles, my pillow faxed with what little hair I have left to give. Can you still love me? Showering me in a chair, wiping my ass as I saw, I'm sorry to you throwing my underwear into a trashcan without saying a word. Can you still love me when I struggle to recognize you? Call our son by my brother's name, scream. When I look in the mirror, my stroke addle face may hang like a sheet on a branch wrinkled and absent of cohesion. Just know that there are rings inside of me that are black and burned with a memory of you that I would carve away the bark of me to get at. We may not always be able to slow dance. When our wedding song sneaks onto the radio, the doctor might tell me, I won't live to see winter and that's okay. I hate shoveling anyway and there may come a day where we are planning my funeral and I insist on being buried in a shirt that says, insert wooden stake here over the heart. I hope you will shake your head and do it. Anyway. Like I said, I'm not a good judge of where these things are going to go. Not everyone looks forward to being their lover's caretaker and that's okay. I'm not either. I just hope and pray that you will always love me as I do you in those difficult times.
Speaker 3:
51:19
Okay.
Speaker 4:
51:19
I like this one where we are both under the comforter and I am about to. Is that you? Wow. Is it weird for me to say how much I love you in this moment for that?
Speaker 3:
51:44
I really liked that. I really like that a lot. That's good. It's always great when I get a tier or a couple in the left. No, that was like a very thorough ride. I always like saying like, Oh, I get a lot of people crying on my first poem, which ended up with a fantastic hook.
Speaker 2:
52:05
Thank you to my guests, Jesse parents.
Speaker 3:
52:07
Thank you so much for joining me in letting me interview you. Yeah, I had a great time. This is a pleasure. Thank you.
Speaker 2:
52:14
In the telling, we'll be back with its second season in 2020 you can catch up on our back catalog and find out more about in the tele@lizzielizzieliz.com theme music by Gordon vetoes in the telling is hosted and produced by me, Liz Christiansen. Thank you for listening and see you next year.
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