Buggy invited me along and I happily accepted. I’m a writer now, right? I’m supposed to do all that literary shit. It was a lot of fun. If there’s one in your area, you should check it out.
It is a competition, with judges recrtuited from the audience. I was offered the “opportunity” to be a judge and I’m very glad I turned it down. More on that later, maybe. The qualilty of the performances was more uniform that usual, Buggy tells me. The eight finalists tonight had to win preliminary rounds to compete tonight, so they were all pretty good, but there was a uniformness of voice among the competitors that I suspect is a reflection of the taste of the audience in the previous rounds. Many of the performers made heavy use of a Hip-Hop cadence that has become a poetic stereotype.
Here is the one image I took of a performer, as she began an animated discussion of her unnatural love of peanut butter:
Lots of good ideas, soem expressed better than others, and everyone understood that this was just as much about the performance as it was about the poem. All the finalists attacked their work with great energy and honesty, and some of the things I heard really made me think.
Unfortunately, I had only a couple of seconds after each performance before the big goofy jackass MC hopped up on stage and started shouting his schtick into the mike. After listening to a woman tell us how she was coping with bring molested as a child and having a friend murdered while she worked in a peep show, the last thing I wanted to hear was some douchebag clown saying “Look at meee! Look at meeee!” Sure, his job is to keep the energy up, but the energy of thought and ideas moving is sometimes better than just “get everyone making noise” energy. (Buggy pointed out that as a crowd the poetry circle is pretty self-absorbed and no one listened to each other’s work anyway.)
The judges were, as I mentioned, recruited out of the audience, and while they took it very seriously, they weren’t prepared for the task. The guy who went first put on a very good performance but as time passed there became an unofficial minimum score that the audience would accept, and that floor kept going up. It didn’t matter who went first, they were doomed. Had I accepted the role of judge, I would have been taken outside and beaten for giving scores below 8 out of ten. Any explanation of scale attenuation would have been wasted.
While I have dwelt for a bit on the negatives of the night, my overall impression was very good. I heard several very talented and very brave people spilling their guts out to strangers and (scarier) friends. It made me think about my writing and got my juices flowing again. Tonight I made some important improvements to the first chapter of The Fish by imagining myself reciting it as poetry.
The four winners now go to St. Louis for the national finals. Good luck to them there.