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Andrea Gibson
July 20, 2010 9:12 PM   Subscribe

Andrea Gibson, slam poet and activist, is not gentle with her truths. Her poetry focuses on gender norms, politics, and the struggles facing queer people today. Her poems include I do, Dive, Blue Blanket, and Photograph.
posted by kylej (21 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, I don't get poetry, generally speaking, and I do even worse with slam. But I'll ask anyway, sincerely.

Is this considered good slam poetry?
posted by oddman at 9:44 PM on July 20, 2010


So, I don't get poetry, generally speaking, and I do even worse with slam. But I'll ask anyway, sincerely.

Is this considered good slam poetry?

Subjectively, I consider her poetry to be excellent, and she's also done very well in multiple poetry slams.
posted by kylej at 9:52 PM on July 20, 2010


cause it's hard to wanna survive
when i know if ghandi were alive
... he'd shoot me


Wasn't this a Tenacious D lyric? Maybe Flight of the Conchords?
posted by clockzero at 9:55 PM on July 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


relevant: Katie Makkai on what it means to be 'pretty.'
posted by karminai at 10:04 PM on July 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is this considered good slam poetry?

Yes. People love her and she gets top prizes in slam competitions.

Or are you asking whether it's considered good poetry?

Slam poetry is performance. Charismatic people with compelling biographies and politically sympathetic positions take turns getting up to wow the audience with heartfelt declarations and funny lines that will make the audience get that old "right on!" feeling in their hearts. Performers are judged on how they deliver their lines, not just on the script. Gibson delivers, according to her biography page, "powerful readings on politics, global justice, and gender issues."

You don't sit down and read this stuff off a page, like you don't sit down and read a rap. If you bought a book of Gibson's stuff, you might see lines like this:
[...] fuck your yellow ribbon
you wanna support our troops
bring them home
and hold them tight when they get here
Which is a sentiment I suppose most of us support, but the words on the page are about as poetic as a MetaFilter comment.
posted by pracowity at 12:12 AM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I get weird vibes from slam poetry, it's all so pat. And the repetition of "truths" in the marketing copy is grating to me too, in that same weird way.

But I suspect she'd be a much cooler person in person than her web presence, which she may or may not have much to do with personally, makes her seem to me. And I'd guess based on some of the stuff in her myspace blog she's a better writer than I first assumed. Which is where I tend to end up with the slam poets I know: cool people who do something kind of inscrutable to me.
posted by Nomiconic at 1:38 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, I don't get poetry, generally speaking

Really? I appreciate your rush to honesty right out of the gate in this poetry thread here, but I'll be honest back: I'm stunned when I meet people who say they don't "get poetry." Do you get words? Rhythm? Playing with words and rhythm? It's like saying "I don't get music" or "art" - statements so clearly based in lack of exposure to the best of the medium you wonder why anyone would make them in public.

Anyway, yeah there's a crowd-pleasing obviousness to performance poetry that grates sometimes, but I like what I see of Gibson in the post. She has flow, knows how to perform for a crowd and knows how to stack images and rhymes onto one another in interesting ways that build to something fun to hear and generally intelligent, even if I already know the politics by heart.

Sounds like a good slam poet to me. Thanks, kylej.
posted by mediareport at 4:39 AM on July 21, 2010


I get weird vibes from slam poetry, it's all so pat. And the repetition of "truths" in the marketing copy is grating to me too, in that same weird way.

Glad I'm not the only one. I was briefly involved in Slam Poetry years ago, in its 90's heydey, and that aspect of it always bothered me, that your poetry could basically be crap, but if it expressed certain political opinions and/or you projected a certain kind of persona, people would love you. There was (to me) a real lack of honesty about the whole thing that was very strange. Or maybe not. I actually did pretty well in it, but then again I'm a woman and a lot of my stuff was angry, so I fit in with the crowd. But I met some really talented writers who would get consistently passed over because they didn't have stage appeal.
posted by cottonswab at 5:07 AM on July 21, 2010


I met some really talented writers who would get consistently passed over because they didn't have stage appeal.

Amen. I didn't meet so many, but I sure watched some great slam poets get passed over by the crowd because the right superficial buttons weren't pushed. And don't get me started on the whole competition element. Ugh.
posted by mediareport at 6:33 AM on July 21, 2010


that your poetry could basically be crap, but if it expressed certain political opinions and/or you projected a certain kind of persona, people would love you.

Emphasis on the "slam" not the "poetry." Slam poetry is performance, so it's much closer to acting, rock n' roll, hip-hop, cheerleading, etc., than to what is ordinarily thought of as poetry. Which is why slam poets must be more than just "good" poets--and don't need to even be very good poets if they have stage presence--to be compelling. I'm not a huge fan of slam poetry. I think more people imagine they have that kind of presence than actually do, so in practice you have a lot of not-very-compelling performers doing not-very-good poetry, but then that's exactly what Sturgeon's Law predicts. An exciting, charismatic, slam poet is just as good as a thrilling piece of theater or a good music show.

Shorter me: What pracowity said.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:44 AM on July 21, 2010


I'm stunned when I meet people who say they don't "get poetry."

I agree with you that it's odd, but I completely disagree that it's only lack of exposure. My partner doesn't "get" poetry or comics, and believe me, she has had tons of exposure to both. She is also very intelligent, educated, and well-read, both fiction and non-fiction, but for some reason she's just poetry- and comics-autistic. She will get the "point" or the joke of the poem or comic, but has no sense or care for the process that brought her that point. I've never understood it, and I continue to share both poems and comics with her, but it is what it is.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:51 AM on July 21, 2010


I've always considered this her most powerful performance.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:42 AM on July 21, 2010


Mayor Curley: “I've always considered this her most powerful performance.”

How is it that so many people like Mr Show? It's just... not funny at all. Meh. I keep trying to watch, but it's just boring as hell. And it doesn't help that David Cross is a complete asshole.
posted by koeselitz at 8:56 AM on July 21, 2010


Political slam poetry is really, really tough to do well. For one, almost everyone does it, and everyone basically has the same position on the issues, so it's hard to separate your poetry and performance from the crowd of other political poets. It relies on a base urge, too - group identification - you're playing on the monkey instinct that tells the audience "This primate is part of our group! We identify with this primate! Let's go fight the other primates we do not identify with! Grab the petition clipboards!" You're not educating anyone, you're just relying on political affiliations to get a high score.

At the regional and national level slams, the really top, rarified peak of people who do this very, very well - the poets who bring down the house, and will leave you breathless and in awe after their piece, are the ones who slam about intensely personal topics with genuine emotion and a polished, perfected presentation. Memorably, Bill McMillan won a national slam with a poem that had no audible words at all. He performed a love poem in sign language, with grace and beauty in movement, and genuine sincerity in sentiment, and it completely blew up the venue, everyone out of their seats and cheering.

Good slam pieces can be on political topics, but great slam pieces rely on deeper wells of emotion than outrage and group identity.

On the other hand, at the local venues, I've won a few slams with pieces based around word play and surrealist humor with wicked little twists and actual rhyme and meter - not because I'm a great poet with deep meaning, but because the audience loves variety, and too often doesn't get it. You can only sit through so many political tracts and autobiographical tragedies before the mood needs to be lightened.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:11 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


How is it that so many people like Mr Show?

We think it's funny.

I pretty actively dislike slam poetry; the combination of frequent "preaching to choir" aspect coupled with the weird performance/competition dynamic just turns me right off. I find that slam poetry tends not to play with words and rhythmic structure so much as vocal expression, tone, pitch -- all of which are interesting exercises, but they're not why I go to poetry. I have a hard time viewing slam poetry as poetry, the same as I have a hard time viewing a Shakespearean monologue as poetry. They both have poetical elements, certainly, but they seem to me to be public performance first and foremost and are best judged along that spectrum.
posted by Errant at 12:18 PM on July 21, 2010


Hey this discussion is really interesting so far. I didn't realize that slam is really more a vocal performance than standard poems. I think the various upstream criticisms upstream resonate with me, too.

As for how or why I don't get poetry. I just don't. I understand its goal and medium, but poems tend to simply not resonate. This doesn't happen with other forms of art, I happily enjoy visual art, concerts, etc. I love opera. Yet poetry, with the singular exception of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (and even then I suspect that I like it simply for the "trousers' rolled" line.).

Then again I like noise music while most people seem to be rather put off by it.

Tomato, tomahto.
posted by oddman at 1:20 PM on July 21, 2010


oddman: You may enjoy investigating other modernist poetry, especially Wallace Stevens. You may also, given your musical taste, enjoy post-modernism, which tries to deconstruct forms / values and often appears as "noise poetry" to classicists. If you're interested, the usual suspect anthologies are a good place to start. If you've already tried them and didn't enjoy them, I apologize for my presumption.
posted by Errant at 2:22 PM on July 21, 2010


How is it that so many people like Mr Show?

If you don't like Mr. Show, you don't like sketch comedy. Which is a fine position. I can totally understand that. But it needs some quantifiers.

If you don't like Mr. Show, but you like Flying Circus, you're just pretentious. They're cut from the same cloth, but Mr. Show isn't old and/or British. Prudery might figure into a decision like that too I guess. The absolute best of Flying Circus probably tops the best of Mr. Show, but not by much.

If you don't like Mr. Show, but you enjoy Saturday Night Live or other sketch comedy from a broadcast network, you're better off dead honestly. Don't worry about what becomes of your soul because you don't have one.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:46 PM on July 21, 2010


It's mostly the "David Cross is a colossal asshole" thing, I think. That bit you linked, for example, is really only funny insofar as poetry slam people are stupid. It's insult comedy, like most of Mr Show that I've seen; and that's all right, but lots of comedy has more breadth than that.

Back to the subject: I do like "poetry slam" poetry, and performance poetry, and the art of speaking forcefully in general. Unfortunately I feel like it's something that's getting less popular here a decade or two after the heyday of hip-hop. That's a shame, because speaking can be a powerful medium, and sometimes I'm sad because I think we're a little to jaded nowadays to believe that one person saying words on a stage can have power anymore.

Sage Francis, who is pretty much just a slam poet who uses hip-hop as a driving context, is a strong example, I think, of what slam poetry can do; and if anybody's hesitant about slam poetry but wants to see if maybe they'd like it, he's a pretty good gateway drug. "Inherited Scars" has always had a particularly intense emotional edge to me – it deals with some powerful undercurrents, like a lot of Francis' stuff (and like a lot of slam poetry) and yet it's pretty erudite and thoughtful about it. That edge – the personal mixing with the social in a glaringly direct and immediate way – is what this stuff is all about.
posted by koeselitz at 3:48 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Before hearing slam poetry, I never realized what a wealth of English words have '-tion' for a suffix.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:50 PM on July 21, 2010


Sage openly mocked my stuff before his piece during a slam. This was actually pretty thrilling, as he's a top tier slam poet in a very competitive venue (Providence), and not a bad recording artist, and the recognition and rivalry during the slam was fun. Saul Williams is another "Gateway Drug."
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:27 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


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