Today I made the huge mistake of trying to get into an intelligent discussion about the merits of slam poetry on the internet. The guy dismissed slam as either rhyming too much, not rhyming at all, having no rhythm or metaphor, being all performance with zero content, having too much energy with nothing to say, etc. When, of course, I shared a number of examples that shot his contradictory arguments to hell, I at least got the admission that “maybe slam poetry wasn’t his scene.” I’m not sure what believed constitutes good poetry, as he never gave any examples beyond complaints. Perhaps he had a very classic and fixed assumption about what poetry should be. However, as much as I enjoy them, poetry’s more than just Shakespearean sonnets.
Here I’d like to share a favorite piece of mine by Saul Williams, titled “Coded Language.” My internet opponent dismissed the slam as being pure artifice, and structureless, witless rhyme. Now, Williams does use a bit of a visual gag with the scroll, but even this is a coded reference to one of his books of poetry, “The Dead Emcee Scrolls.” While he does steamroll through the piece (perhaps a legitimate criticism of slam, that it’s too often fast and furious [and, let’s be honest, that was a terrible movie]), he is far from witless and hardly overuses rhyme. As Williams himself would have put it, perhaps my opponent confused rhyme with reason. There’s a lot going on in this poem — it might be a good idea to find a text copy to follow along. Unfortunately, all the text versions I’ve found on the net are listed on song lyrics sites which gives you the choice between awful formatting and atrocious formatting. I couldn’t pick one, so I’ll let you look it up on your own. Anyway, here’s a powerful piece of humanity:
Other slam poets to check out: Marc Smith (couldn’t find any performances, but here’s a link to one of my favorite pieces), Taylor Mali (On What Teachers Make), Katie Makkai (Pretty), Beau Sia (I’m So Deep), and Patricia Smith (Medusa). I would also recommend checking out some of the beats and black arts poets who laid the foundations for slam poetry — most notably Allen Ginsberg (America) and Amiri Baraka (Black Art).
Listening to: DNA, Saul Williams (because he’s a rapper, too, and a damn good one at that)