Cos there's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it's sent away.
April 15, 2009 12:51 PM   Subscribe

The spoken-word poetry (and music) of Sarah Kay: "B". "Hand Me Downs". "Not Just Another Math Problem". "Scaffolding".

Bonus: "Constitution". The only two articles I could find on her: 1, 2. An early version of "B". "And Found".
posted by dolca (26 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

O:45 in "Not Just Another Math Problem" shows writebloody t-shirt. Started by Derrick Brown who has traveled with this great band, and also published these poets.
posted by psylosyren at 1:17 PM on April 15, 2009

however it starts, it's got to be loud...

seriously, within the def/nuyorican/youth speaks world isn't sarah kay already well known?
posted by the aloha at 1:24 PM on April 15, 2009

Cos there's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it's sent away.

Restraining order? What restraining order? Bitch is just playing hard to get!
posted by yoink at 1:44 PM on April 15, 2009

I actually spent about ten minutes debating with myself whether to use that line for the title, knowing someone would make that cheap joke. Then I thought nah, surely they're better than that...
posted by dolca at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2009

knowing someone would make that cheap joke.

If the "cheap joke" is so obvious, it either means that the poet wanted to evoke that feeling or that the poet isn't in control of her own imagery--either way, it seems a fair comment.
posted by yoink at 2:00 PM on April 15, 2009

And now, having actually listened to some of these, I'll say that she has absolutely no interest in having anyone stop and think about her images for more than the time they'd spend on a Hallmark card. This sums up pretty much everything I hate about so much spoken-word poetry. It's a series of half baked "striking" images cobbled together with minimum attention to the actual language being used, designed solely to elicit familiar and easily-tapped emotions, and incapable of bearing even the slightest serious scrutiny (as, for example, the image of the child having the solar system painted on the back of her hand so that she'll have to know the entire universe before she ever says that she knows something as well as the back of her hand. The "solar system"=the entire universe?).

This stuff bears roughly the same relationship to "poetry" as Cheez Whiz to roquefort.
posted by yoink at 2:14 PM on April 15, 2009 [4 favorites]

Fair enough yoink - I just thought the spirit in which it was meant was better than that interpretation, but I see your point.
posted by dolca at 2:16 PM on April 15, 2009

Should've previewed.
posted by dolca at 2:17 PM on April 15, 2009

Much as I don't want to come sailing in for an easy drive-by snark, this is piss poor, for the reasons yoink mentions, and then some.

It might be sincere at some level, but it's utter crisps. You can eat and eat and eat and you'll never get full because there's no nutrition there, just platitudes stacked in clumsy, mouldering heaps. I mean, she's only a borderline competent performer of her own work. I can accept fudged syntax or thematically empty lines when something impressive is happening vocally, you know, like they tweak the metre and rock a tight set of triplets, or knock out a bunch of multi-syllabic rhymes, because at least there's some craft there. Equally, I don't mind prosey stanzas if they're loaded with robust gags, or if the looser structure is in the service of some interesting sophisticated image or argument.

But seriously. What's going on with her gestures and intonation during those pieces? It's like she thinks that she's performing to a freezer of beef carcasses, the way she

spells out
every little

of a poem about as nuanced
as the

Disney Channel

It's patronising and empty, and it only emphasises the intellectual and emotional aridity of her work.

I've been a performance poet for about four and a half years now. I love it, and there are a whole clutch of people on the scene who I admire so much for the effort they put into the craft, the way they push themselves on stage, the respect they show their audiences, the way they weave humour with serious points to create something layered and human, just the tribal spectacle of watching and hearing a storyteller grab a room by the short and curlies and make them feel something.

I mention that just to make it clear I'm not criticising Sarah Kay in a misguided attempt to demonstrate my higher standards or cultural superiority. I really like good performance poetry. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to make an effort.

I'm criticising her because she shows no respect for the form or her audience. Those aren't poems. They're poorly simulated epiphanal discharges disguised as a courageous moral victories. She's a fucking sanctimonious self-mythologising dilettante who cares more about casting herself as a beachhead for Liberal Humanism than learning the rudiments of oratory or editing.

So yeah. Your favourite poet does suck.
posted by RokkitNite at 4:25 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wow, this poem certainly shows a lack of self-reflection. Second-hand hand me down anger indeed.
posted by delmoi at 4:42 PM on April 15, 2009

hallmark sells corny sentiments of celebration on cardboard to your grandmother. slam poets sell sentiments of lazy revolution with coffee to your failed poet/actress girlfriend.

i can't blame anyone for selling to the market they are trying to make a living off of. yes, spoken word has mutated into something which is neither true poetry nor true acting, but there is a lot of trust fund money to be made. if you look at kay's, or most any other slammers' work, as a form of comedy it is a bit more amusing.
posted by the aloha at 5:17 PM on April 15, 2009

I was also disappointed.

yoink and RokkitNite, I'm curious what you think of Rives.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 5:17 PM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can you explain to me what you meant by a lack of self-reflection delmoi? Just so I understand.
posted by dolca at 5:25 PM on April 15, 2009

yoink and RokkitNite: can you point me to some videos of your favourite poets so I can see for myself what you consider good? I want to see if you're right - maybe I'll come back and agree with you, and thank you for showing me the light.
posted by dolca at 5:35 PM on April 15, 2009

A friend of mine wrote an interesting post about slam poetry recently.
posted by lunit at 8:27 PM on April 15, 2009

dolca, try some of these cats out. (In no particular order... and I can't be bothered to search for videos at this hour, especially since, honestly, a lot of people's best stuff isn't on the tubes). Not all of their styles are my cuppa, but they're all acknowledged, and rightly so, as being good at what they do.

Christian Drake
Shane Koyczan
Mike McGee
Rachel McKibbons
Robbie Q. Telfer
Airea "Dee" Matthews
Anis Mojgani
Barbara Adler
Brendan McLeod
Ami Mattison
Dave Nichols
Buddy Wakefield
posted by achromata cantata automata at 8:55 PM on April 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

You Should See The Other Guy, from what I've seen of Rives, I think he's great. His 4am Is The New Midnight TED talk is a masterful bit of cross-genre humour that managed to feel deft and funny at the same time. I think Gorgeous is a really awesome poem too. The images are really vivid, and I couldn't guess the end of any of his lines, because he keeps sidestepping. It's also refreshing because he's not presenting himself as some bastion of easy moral certainties, but just being a bit caddish and funny. He seems self aware and appears to have a sense of humour about the whole thing. And on the video I watched, his delivery was tight.

I also like Buddy Wakefield - I certainly can't ever predict the ends of his sentences, and he keeps me engaged - but I'm not always sure I understand what he's banging on about. I like how worked up he gets, though. I always get the sense he's putting the effort in.

To the cynical outsider, it's easy to dismiss the US Slam scene as footnotes to Howl. Certainly there's too much pseudo-earnest first-person brain-spew stuff penned by people who think having opinions and pulling some half-hearted wax-on wax-off shit while delivering them counts as poetry.

Most of my favourite poets are from the UK scene. It has a very different feel and sometimes leaves what you might consider 'traditional' US Slam audiences a little baffled and politely disappointed, as if they're still waiting for you to break out your stump speech about how stamping on kittens is NOT COOL. Part of that comes from a lack of strong, poetry-dedicated nights. UK performance poets who want regular gigs usually end up being closer to cabaret performers, and have to adjust their set to cater for a wide variety of audiences. I'm not sure that's necessarily a good thing - personally, I find switching between music audiences, stand-up audiences, cabaret audiences, festival audiences, page poetry audiences, and, very occasionally, performance poetry audiences (gasp!) pretty stressful, but maybe it helps build muscles that I'll be grateful for later on.

I'm happy to give you some recommendations, but most of them are now my peers and friends, so I'm not exactly Captain Objective. God, I wish I was.
posted by RokkitNite at 2:10 AM on April 16, 2009

Can you explain to me what you meant by a lack of self-reflection delmoi? Just so I understand.

Her poems are all very angry, but what's she angry about? It's second hand anger, just like the person she's talking about in the poem I was talking about.
posted by delmoi at 11:51 AM on April 16, 2009

Her poems are all very angry, but what's she angry about? It's second hand anger, just like the person she's talking about in the poem I was talking about.

Yes. "You must forgive and forget. The way I've totally forgotten what a horrible bastard Dad was. I don't dwell for a second on the way he, on the 19th of June 1995 for example, totally refused to admit that he was a fascist pig. Or, again, on the 13 of May 1996 he, like, sneered at my Tori Amos CD and I cried about it for the rest of the day! Prick. You see, I've totally forgotten all of that stuff and risen above it. You should learn from me."

As for poets I admire: well, they mostly predate the YouTube age or even the age of recording. For the most part, poems that can be fully taken in on a single hearing are not going to be very rich. Still, here's 1, 2, 3 links to recordings of truly great poets.
posted by yoink at 1:17 PM on April 16, 2009

Thanks achromata cantata automata - I'll look them up.

delmoi: I am truly baffled by your explanation - how are her poems angry? Are we watching the same videos? How can something that seems so obviously warm and encouraging and positive seem angry to you? All of them?
posted by dolca at 1:26 PM on April 16, 2009

yoink: What the fuck? Where do you even get the quote from? Where does she say anything like that?

That's it - I'm done. I was really going to respect you people and look up who you think are good, but this is some insane projecting or trolling, I don't know what. I deeply regret making this post - for someone who's a "fucking sanctimonious self-mythologising dilettante", she has no web presence, even in this day and age, and it was a real struggle to even find anything about her. She seems like someone who's actually travelling around the world and trying to do some good, and I deeply regret the part I've played in causing this stupid thread to happen and probably appear high on any Google searches on her. What little reaction I've found to her work before this have been so overwhelmingly positive, people being encouraged and inspired both in their lives and in their interest in spoken-word poetry. I'm sorry I brought it here.
posted by dolca at 1:38 PM on April 16, 2009

What the fuck? Where do you even get the quote from?

I'm trying to capture the passive/aggressive logic behind the "this poem" that delmoi links to. I thought it was obvious that I wasn't actually quoting her--the quotation marks are meant to suggest "it's as if she were to say this." Her poem is all about letting go of anger (breaking a cycle of inherited anger, indeed), but it in fact serves to carefully preserve and polish the memory of the occasions of that anger. It's just utterly blind to the ways in which it's impossible to say "I forgive you" without also saying "I accuse you of that which requires forgiveness."

That's it - I'm done. I was really going to respect you people and look up who you think are good, but this is some insane projecting or trolling, I don't know what.

Or maybe you like these poems and we don't. We, at least, are willing to say why we dislike them--I'm not sure what more you can ask of an audience for any work of art.
posted by yoink at 1:59 PM on April 16, 2009

Absolutely nothing wrong with anyone not liking what I like - I was expecting people to come in with recommendations of "I don't like her much, [this] is better". I would've welcomed that, as I wanted to learn more about spoken-word poetry, and I welcomed and in fact actively asked for it in this thread. But I find it difficult to comprehend on any level how you're reading all this passive/aggressive logic from what is essentially such a common sentiment - can we not perpetuate this cycle of violence anymore? Your explanation makes no sense to me, and doesn't seem to bear any relation to what she was saying.

Moreover, much of the criticism in this thread is not about the art itself. I despise that kind of criticism - "she's a fucking sanctimonious self-mythologising dilettante", for example, is completely baseless and uncalled for. She has no web presence, she doesn't promote herself in any way on the internet, and her poetry - whatever you think of their artistic merit (and that's completely subjective and completely fine) - seems so obviously well-intentioned and sincere that the crazy things many of you are reading into them are both bizarre and depressing to me. The venom and dismissiveness with which some of you have done it, without regard for how she is a young person, probably between 19 and 22 in these clips, sincerely trying to put something good in the world... I regret ever bringing any of it here.
posted by dolca at 2:24 PM on April 16, 2009

that's completely subjective and completely fine

No, I don't think it is "completely subjective," otherwise there'd be no point in critical discussion at all. All we would ever say is "I like it" "I don't like it" and that would be that. You don't find it just a little bit telling that the great majority of respondents to this thread are in agreement about the sanctimoniousness, the passive-aggressiveness, the vapidity of these poems? It doesn't strike you as at all odd that what you can't see as "bear[ing] any relation to what she was saying" is something that a random group of strangers all see so clearly?

No one is saying that she is an evil person. No one, I think, would question that this is "well-intentioned and sincere." It's just that it also utterly unconsidered. You say that her "can we not perpetuate this cycle of violence" poem is "essentially such a common sentiment" and that is precisely the point. There's nothing at all in these poems that isn't "a common sentiment"--with equal emphasis on "common" and "sentiment." Everything here is designed to make the audience say "yes, of course, how true"--but not because any great truth or deep insight or striking expression of the idea has been offered, simply because she's offered the audience a chance to congratulate itself on the purity of its sentiments: "yes, I really hate the cycle of violence--aren't I a decent person? Hey, and I think children should be encouraged to grow and to be everything they dream of being--I'm just great, aren't I?" There's nothing at all here that asks the audience to stop and think, that suggests to them that maybe their understanding of the world needs revision, or that they could look at it in a new way--and that, for me, is the real essence of what poetry does.

And that, too, is why her poems about "sad" things (like anger) are so passive aggressive. There's no dangerous opening up to her own complicity in such a cycle, no invitation to the audience to consider their complicity, either. No, it's just "jeez, anger sucks doesn't it--aren't those angry people bad people--why can't they be cool not-at-all-angry people like you and me. Isn't it cool that we're so cool?" (NB--no, this isn't a quotation from her either). That's simply complacent self-congratulation--and god knows that there's enough of that "in the world" already.
posted by yoink at 3:02 PM on April 16, 2009

dolca, this youtube video features two of the spoken worders performing with your sarah kay: buddy wakefield and mike mcgee. so you can at least see what wakefield is like and how mcgee beatboxes.

much of the criticism in this thread is not about the art itself.
to be frank, very little of your positivity seems to be about the art itself. it seems to be about how sarah kay is young and positive, and trying to change the world. how other people think that she is great. you have not discussed the tone of her voice or the meter of her spoken word.

plus, even if someone has good intentions, does that cover up what they make. does my trying to explain a differing view make you any less mad at me for having the nerve to disagree with you? to trample on that beautiful flower that is sarah kay? even though sarah kay puts herself out there for the world to see and possibly pay for a performance?

She has no web presence, she doesn't promote herself in any way on the internet
she probably should. she might sell more cds. this is no one else's problem but her's that she does not promote herself. it does not make her or her work anymore earnest. she has even been on def poetry jam- which is not something people do lightly if they are not trying to promote themselves or their egos.

i agree with slam poet taylor mali in this video that slam poetry by its competitive nature has to be immediately accessible to the judges in order to be considered successful. thus, to please the selected democracy at some coffeehouse somewhere many slam poets have to play to the audience which often means aligning themselves with the audiences' aesthetics and politics of the moment at the expense of poetic technique. mali correctly notes that true poetry masters like t.s. eliot would lose at a poetry slam. i doubt that anyone with any experience with poetry would say that kay is anywhere close to being an eliot yet, if ever.

while slammers, like all artists, need not be afraid of pushing the envelope the democratic nature of the slam seems to watered down what is envelope pushing into a weird kind of self-important navel-gazing which works well to audiences which want to have their aesthetic and political viewpoints repeated back to them. yet, people really do not like to have their envelopes pushed too far. thus, the slammers are stuck in a trap where they have to be accessible now at the expense of being challenging and rewarding for all-time. fresh lines get claps, but deep lines almost always have to be thought about. it might the middle of the night in her house but does kathleen hanna repeating it a million times add anything new to anyone's understanding of feminist issues? or is the theory of relativity disproved and other points by heru add anything new to the discussion on race relations? does big mike become a sexy ass bitch by being a comedian or a poet?

there seems to be an overriding saul williams influence of the worst kind on the younger crowd of slammers. they seem to want to emulate all of his anger, but not his wordplay, attention to meter, or ability to sneak in a joke. slammers like kay, yellow rage, ill-literacy, and george watsky who are held as the cream of the crop of the new generation in california (after all, if it is not from cali or nyc, it ain't cool), and they all seem to have all of the answers... as we all do at that age.

now, i might be the harshest person in this thread, but it is because i want spoken word to get better. it could be awesome. it is not yet. as it is, until a prodigy is born to combine poetry and acting and really lift the form to something other than a mush of poetry and acting there is not enough money in spoken word to get true poets, true actors, or the optimal true hybrid to do it. meanwhile it has become too open and too accepting of any and everyone uninterested in the finer points of either poetry or acting to advance either of those crafts.
posted by the aloha at 5:17 PM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

for what it is worth, this metafilter post has only made it to #31 in a google search for "sarah kay spoken word". therefore, not on the first page and of little consequence.
posted by the aloha at 11:13 PM on April 16, 2009

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