An Open Letter to All of the Poets Competing in the 2009 National Poetry Slam
Beginning on the night of August 4, 2009, the city of West Palm Beach, Florida
will be witness to a literary event unlike any it has ever seen before. The city will
be flooded with poets from all over the country, poets who have come to participate
in a national competition and also to take in everything a city that is new to them has
Those of us who have been watching the changes taking place within
the national “slam family” over the many years of its existence know that every
year, there will always be poets who have come to the Nationals with dreams of
perfect scores in their eyes, dreams of the relative stardom that an individual
slam championship can confer upon them, dreams of a badass community infamy
earned with their words to strangers in a strange new city. Those of us who have been
watching the Nationals for years also know that there are many poets who are
hoping that, with their words, they can make a change in the world, hoping that
they can bring light, or hope, or bring about unity with the poems that they
take with them to the stage.
I'm writing this letter to all of you poets going to the 2009 National Poetry Slam
to remind you all that it's not about your words bringing about peace, or hope
or what truth you think the world needs, or light. And it's also not about the scores that
you earn, either singly or with your team. It's never been about that.
Please remember that as we poets, we are there to bring to the audience
visions that they cannot comprehend, stories involving puppets, scenarios that will
confuddle them, images that will startle them directly into another beer. Please remember
that, as important as it may be that your words speak into existence the truth, it is
far, far more important that you force the audience members before you to have to
picture a startled parakeet, surprise in its face, after having a handful of wet pizza flour
thrown at it. The National Slam is the place and the time to force slam attendees
to see crying firemen, in their mind's eye, grinding suggestively against yellow fire
Listen, we have seen, over the course of the last several years, too many poets
trying to change the world with the Truth that is nestled in their URGENT POETRY.
But the time is upon you to cast such things aside and bring what matters to the fore:
elderly dogs in sneezing fits outside of gross fast-food restaurants, depictions of men taking
showers that last for several hours at once, close-up references to armpits and nipples being
lathered and cleaned with foamy bath oils, televangelists having accidents at the podium.
Please, poets, remember that in the short time you have at the microphone, you are there
to pinch the listeners in their groinbones with poetry that confuses and causes
trepidation. We, all of us, only have a short time to make an impact when we hit that
Nationals microphone. Please, don't waste it by trying to change or save the world with
the UNSTOPPABLE, applause-worthy HONESTY of the words you have shed tears over.
Instead, remember to force the attendees of the National Slam to have to think about
the politics of body odor, gonzo journalist porn, and tricycle abuse.
We only get one shot at this.
Please remember that.