I've been indulging my artsy side of late, ripping off a verse or three at some Richmond poetry slams. The deal with a slam is, it's sort of like a poets' battle of the bands; everybody brings his best stuff, you're judged by randomly selected audience members and the winner gets a few bucks and bragging rights.
I had some medical problems about this time last year and my physician put her foot down and told me I had to take a few months off to recover, so I did. Toward the end of that time, I got itchy to resume wordsmithing, so I cranked out a few new poems (I've been writing poems and songs since shortly after birth) and hied myself up to Richmond, Virginia's Firehouse Theatre for my first-ever slam.
I recited an abstraction-heavy piece chock full of Biblical references and lots of e.e. cummingsesque wordplay. I bombed horribly, while a bunch of kids who spent their entire three minutes raving out - about how dead, white European males, capitalism and George W. Bush are part and parcel of a Satanist conspiracy - got full props.
I quickly recalibrated my act, pumped up the Bombast Coefficient Factor to about "11" and returned a few months later loaded for bear. My offering that night was entitled "1972 Revisited," which I introduced as "an incredibly short one-act play rendered in verse, song and interpretive dance."
The piece, a carefully metered and rhymed bit of pop doggerel, gives the listener a pretty good ride, but is nothing special compared to my first offering. It was, however, larded with references to the riotous living in which I enthusiastically engaged during my misspent youth.
Trust me, you don't want to know.
Anyway, it's fair to say my performance was less than restrained. In point of fact, I ran amok on stage for three minutes in front of a room full of startled Virginia Commonwealth University students.
The crowd approved. The kids seemed to especially enjoy the interpretive dancing, which combined odd elements of Mick Jagger's stage moves (poorly rendered, but my butt is considerably bigger than his, so whaddya want?) with a sweet little Illinois roadhouse step called The Four Corners. I should stipulate that this dance is one which should be illegal - for anyone my age, gender and race - to perform in public. It's like the Shimmy, but ruder. A lot ruder. Middle-aged white American men have been known to cringe, then instruct me to leave the building upon witnessing my performance of The Four Corners. But women, persons of color and foreign folk think it's fine. And kids, for whatever reason, love it.
On the strength of this uninhibited display of extreme silliness, I scored my way into a Rhyme-Off, tied for first with two other poets. I stupidly reprised the same subtle, abstract poem which had failed to ignite the crowd the first time I slammed, placing third out of three.
Since then, I have written other, similarly deft ruminations in verse, and I keep getting blown off stage by credulous children rhyming about how dead European males are responsible for every single misfortune to befall humanity since we left The Garden. They also like to allude to the well-known fact that George W. Bush's horns and tail are routinely airbrushed out of news photos by former Nixon aides.
I got wise to the ways of slams only after I had bombed one more time, on that occasion by reciting my newest effort, "Let's," a tribute to creative chaos. "Let's" begins with a reverse-spin riff on the opening line of the seminal Beat poem "Howl." Allen Ginsberg wrote, "I have seen the greatest minds of my generation destroyed by madness starving hysterical naked."
I, seeking literary engagement with the real-time Real World, wrote, "I have seen the hindmost intellects of our era co-opted by conventional wisdom sated smug designer-labeled."
Not only did the judges fail to grok in its fullness my implicit message - an enraptured celebration of human volition - I doubt if many of them had any idea whom or what I was referencing. The ones who did probably resented me messing with The Master and scored me accordingly.
I scored sixth out of six poets, but I'm a big Libertarian Republican boy, and let's face it, we're all blind to the limitations of our own talent, so coming in dead last wasn't all that big a deal. But the judges' lack of literacy, awareness and/or class extended far beyond their lack of appreciation for my own meager talents.
Specifically, the guy who placed fourth, an ace poet named Nazdak of whom I feel certain we will hear more in coming years, lit up the room with a brilliantly constructed plea for love, reason, spiritual cleanliness and general godliness. His performance was every bit as good as his verse, but, unfortunately for him, he didn't blame Amerikkka, dead European males, capitalism or George W. Bush for a single thing.
Bad move, Naz. This particular gang of aficionados would rather trash predictable boogymen than eat chocolate cake with icing and Häagen-Dazs. They want to hear President Bush and his execrable ilk lit the Reichstag fire, shot J.F.K. from the grassy knoll and killed Cock Robin.
What they don't want is to hear is for you to mouth a lot of damn sorry truck 'bout love 'n reason.
Here's what I've finally figured out, Naz; Political Correctness is the New Conventional Wisdom. It's much like the Old Conventional Wisdom - lame beyond all imagining- but not nearly as easily-detected by the afore-mentioned credulous children as its witless progenitor.
The CW is dead! Long live the New CW (The Prince Formerly Known as PC)!
Please allow me to state, emphatically and for the record, "More's the pity."
To view the poems "The Last Rebel," "Let's," "1972 Revisited," visit http://youthsongs.blogspot.com/