Author Topic: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?  (Read 8590 times)

Faylita H

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Hola All:

So I'm like sitting on my couch, browsing the wacky world of FB when I happen to see Scott Woods has put up another article!
hxxp: www. facebook. com/notes/scott-woods/what-is-poetry-slam-the-introduction-i-read-this-morning/10150162690879300?notif_t=note_reply
I'm excited b/c well. . .  I read all of his stuff!  The article was actually very interesting and I had a few questions in regards to it.   And so. . .  here we are.   

As I understand it,  there have been several other conversations on this forum regarding the state of slam and so on.  hxxp: www. poetryslam. com/forum/index. php?topic=5477. 
However, I wanted to address not necessarily the format of our events but the evolving theory behind the design of our events.   I have seen the slam described several times as a "mock" competition.   The term "mock" contains such a strong connotation to me that I wondered how others might feel about it.   

When I hear the word mock, I hear other words like fake, imitation, and mediocre.   The idea of anyone mocking anything is usually perceived as either quite hilarious as in comedic skits and anecdotal recollections or as negative when it is often served as a personal punch.   So when I hear the word mock still in association with the slam competition. . .  it makes me flinch.   

In the beginning of slam, I think the term "mock" was appropriate to describe the design and functionality of the competition.   The idea that it was preposterous for anyone to claim the right of artistic superiority and decide in various contests and publishing arenas whose poetry was better than any other person's poetry could be debased and mocked in a slam.   Give any ol' drunk person the score cards and watch the poets scramble for the layman's approval. 

If it was meant as a big SCREW YOU to the literary MAN, well then it did it's job and quite affectively.   Or else this 25 years young chica wouldn't be sitting here blogging about poetry.   The "mock" competition that was slam existed in it's pure form for many years.   But like all things that survive for awhile, it has evolved and the "mock" aspect of the competition was the first thing to go.

 At some point when the various cities starting coming together for a little more than bragging rights. . .  the "mock" portion of the competition started to disappear.   Bragging rights turned into championships.   Nerd poets were turning  into rock stars and gods were born.   Titles and Awards were being passed out.   Jobs and livelihoods became dependent on the structure.   Tours were happening.   TV shows and Broadway.   The slam through natural evolution is no longer a "mock" competition.   The winners of the national events walk away with a little more than bragging rights and gas money to get home.   They walk away with the title and the perfect bullet point on their resumes.   The slam has opened up the doors for thousands of artists to make a living with their chosen art form by providing them with a sort of accreditation.   

How many times have we seen resumes and press kits with the candidate listed as a "nationally ranked poet. "  How many national slam champs make their living using the momentum associated with their titles.   How often do we as Slam Masters, Open Mic hosts, Showcase hosts, Event Producers, Program Coordinators and civilians place emphasis on someone's title achieved within the active slam community to bring out a crowd to our events.   We do not say the "mock" slam gave us this guy as this year's mediocre poet.   We say this slam champ put in some hard work, beat out over X amount of people and walked away with the title and you should come and check him out cause that ish is hard!

True we all have our issues with the design of the event and it can certainly be said that the best poet is not always the one who walks away with the title but then again what are we basing that off of.   When did we become the experts who shake our heads in disgust whenever the poet we considered better receives a lower score than some other poet?  When did we start thinking of it as a necessary right of passage to slam for the whole year and then commit a summer to intensive practice and performance before competing at a national event in order to be considered "on the scene. "  We've developed a new class system within our community-- but that's another post.   

The point is that in the last twenty years the slam has grown from a "mock" competition and commentary on the literary world to an accredited process through which a number of go in order to assert or elevate our work and status within the community.   If it was simply a gathering of minds. . .  then that's all it would be.   But it is not.   A number of the people who have succeeded and continue to succeed have used the slam and the honors it procures to jump start their careers as writers and artists.   There is nothing to be mocked about the poet who couldn't finish high school or college but through slam has made their way into national respect and recognition and makes their living writing.   There is nothing to be mocked about the single mothers-fathers, ex-cons, lawyers, accountants, models, jocks, therapists, librarians and so on who have found success and hope and life in the slam community.   

The slam is evolving and I think we should appreciate the changes.   Indeed, no one likes to take themselves too seriously and by stating that the competition is indeed a real and accredited process, it can be assumed that I assert that the fun and spontaneous nature of the competition would somehow be diminished.   But that's not what I think will happen.   I think the more we look to the competition as a honest work and extremely revealing tool designed to reflect what's happening in the public conscious when it comes to works of literary value, then the freer we become to expand and reach bigger and better audiences.

I appreciate and respect all of the hard work done by every volunteer and event organizer and staff member of this organization.   I know that there are people who take this slam thing serious and have for many moons.   I only suggest that sometimes the way we describe ourselves to alien entities. . . hehehe (alien entities). . .  could be holding us back from continuing to push the boundaries of what poetry is and what it can be to the world. 

I think it's official.   I've just gone over the edge with the "world" comment.   I'm gonna quit now.   Feedback me and let me know what your thoughts are and let's piss someone off.   Or make them fall in love.   Or whatever.   

"You ruined everything you rat bastard!"
"But it was well worth it!"




WonderDave

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2011, 03:38:27 PM »
First Off I'll repost Faylita's Links since they aren't coming up on my computer correctly:

 http://www.poetryslam.com/forum/index.php?topic=5477.0

is a previous forums discussion. And the Scott's facebook note that prompted the discussion is here:

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150162690879300

it was also on the Livejournal: http://scottwoods.livejournal.com/387493.html -folks should read this I love a lot f what Scott has to say about the importance of slam and the human element of it all.

Second I'll throw in that Slam has turned into a serious competition especially on a National Level. BUT I'll also throw in that it is often a competition that I (and several other participants) don't take seriously. Perhaps this is why my resume is devoid of any National Championships (regional events are a different story).

I will also add that i think one thing young slammers might not hear often enough is that being a Slam Champion is not the only way to succeed in the world of slam. I've done quite well without it by being a good writer and performer and a pretty swell guy. I've done two, month long tours throughout the US, a number of one-off features, had my work published in literary journals and anthologies, and been a guest speaker on radio programs.

I'll be back with more soon on the idea of "Mock" and the pros and cons of its use because as I type this I realize I don't have the time to express myself fully. -Hugs WD

Scott Woods

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2011, 08:53:39 PM »
I found it easier to respond by numbering your points.

1) The term "mock".
Mock is a completely appropriate word when describing the competitive aspects of Poetry Slam. While it does not serve everyone's approach or agenda that enters into a slam, it certainly stands to describe Slam's core function, which is to not take the competitive aspects seriously - by design - and instead focus on the ludicrous exercise of judging art in a public space.

If you want to make a real competition out of judging poetry, there are a dozen ways to do so that better serve THAT purpose than poetry slams. But this isn't Slam's purpose. If you want that to be Slam's purpose, then you've been slamming for the wrong reasons. Please do not construe my flippant remark regarding the picking of educated judges as the only way in which poetry slams are different from an actual poetry competition meant to determine the best craftsman in the pile. If this were even remotely close to Slam's purpose we'd have instituted a number of hoops before anyone ever spent a dime on their host hotel rooms or team registration. Slam isn't Mortal Kombat; it's Pro-Am golf. That someone who plays too many video games comes to a slam and wants it to be MK in their mind is their problem, not Slam's. One of the beauties of Slam is that it doesn't care what you bring to it; it's going to do what it wants anyway. it is big enough to absorb all of our agendas so long as we don't break the rules.

While I cannot dictate to you how you should approach Slam, I can tell you when you are expecting something from it that it was not meant to deliver, and prove it over and over again. But suggesting that Slam is a real competition because there is an element of the Slam community that comes to it with that mindset is like saying we should treat Monopoly like it's genuine real estate because there are a couple of homeowners playing it.

(Also, anyone who is offended as an artist by the use of the term "mock" in front of "poetry slam" - meaning anyone who is offended that their art is somehow being tainted by the use of the term - is missing the point and should stick to publishing or literary contests...in which their work will also be arbitrarily judged.)

2) What Slam was is still what it is.
I don't remember getting a memo whenever we supposedly changed from being a big poetry party that had numbers in a bar (or 6-8 of them) to a big poetry competition that had numbers in a bar, and I'm one of the people who have been around and in the right places long enough to get such a message. Hell, I would have been the one delivering it I would think.

Slam is a tool. You can use the tool to build a competition, sure, but that's not what NPS and WOWps and iWPS are, not really. We have just as easily built community. We have also built awareness. We have built palette. We have built economy. We have built art constructs. We have built change. The LAST thing we've built was an actual competition.

3) Slam has lots of jobs, not just "screwing The Man".
Here you not only narrow the historical goals of Slam too much, you narrow down its potential as well. In your world view of Slam it needs to tighten up its competitive aspects and that will get it a larger audience. Problem is, the Slam isn't here to tell you who the best poet is. That people keep reading into the results of slams that we have somehow determined the best poet in the room, for the week, out of hundreds of poets is pretty ridiculous...and that's the point.

Marc Smith dislikes when we talk about his creation in its competitive aspects alone. To him, Poetry Slam isn't just the competition; it's the SHOW. So bring on the music acts and push the stage envelope and let poetry find a way to still be a poetry in the circus that is the sum total of the Poetry Slam essentially, make the competition a small part of what the circus brings to your town. To some extent we have circumvented that idea, though we try to retain its points by sticking to the original rules and adding stuff to the events that has nothing to do with scores. It's not the free-for-all that Marc envisioned (and still exercises every week in Chicago in its purest form) but it's what we could do democratically without stomping all over its point. understand, that's not evolution...that's a concession. Having stuff like a big time clock that buzzed loudly and had big lights on it at the end of 3 minutes wasn't to help the competition, it was to make the competition look ludicrous. That the clock was cast away showed that the competition took over to some extent, that the show was not more important than the competition. While i would have voted the clock away because it's just not that pretty, i understood why it was important and why it needed to be ridiculous and audacious. Unfortunately, people started thinking, "The clock interferes with my POETRY" and the whole product of bringing a show to an audience that wasn't made up of poets was lost. Slam has made a number of those types of concessions over the years.  Again, this is not evolution.

4) What winners walk away with is still consolation, not career defining.
This assumes the most grievous error of all in Poetry Slam: that the winners of poetry slams are the best poets participating in poetry slams. I mean, really?  REALLY? If you want to start naming names then you start, but at the end of the day do you really feel this is what's happening? Do you think that five judges is enough to determine that? Shouldn't POETS have some say in that? I've known judges at some national competitions, all three of them. Trust me: these are not people largely schooled in poetry. Hell, the best poet in the room doesn't always win in my coffee house slam, and that judging ratio is at lot closer to "room normal."

And what of the careers of these winners you speak of? I can think of a number of winners that haven't exactly parlayed their win into anything resembling a sustaining poetry career. Also, I can think of PLENTY of poets who didn't win national titles that made/make more than our winners ever did or will. This doesn't mean PSi should pay more in prize money. It means if you want to get paid doing this you need to come up with a better plan than trying to win a competition against 300 other poets at NPS, or 70 of them at iWPS/WOWps. Trying to build a career off of slam winnings is like trying to pay your rent every month in a casino.

You mention cash prizes as a point at which slam became more than a mock competition. Really? It cost over $2000 to send a team to most nationals. it will cost many teams around $3000 in Cambridge this year. We aren't giving a team a reward so much as we are defraying their costs. And the indie competitions aren't head and shoulders over their expenses either. This isn't wrong when you consider what the goal of the slam is. There are lots of ways to make money with your poetry. Chasing a national slam title is the dumbest way of them all. You'd make more money faster in a week of decent gigs - while better establishing a career as a poet, mind you -  than spending your money to get to these events. That's like the worst investment advice ever.

5) Accredited process?
LOL. No really, this phrase made me laugh out loud.
I don't even know what you mean by this. Do you mean that because you're a poet certified through PSi that somehow that makes the winning of a slam more competitive? PSi doesn't care about your competitive aspects, I'm sorry. That's why the SlamMasters get to determine the rules. You know, the people on the ground making Slam happen in every corner of the country or world, who actually get to put their hands on Slam on an ongoing basis, who direct it on the ground, influencing real poets' lives and art. You can't even get the majority of THAT body to agree that it's a competition. Why? Because most of us get that it's not supposed to be that deep.

6) Slam does not evolve.
POETRY evolves. PEOPLE evolve. Slam is still doing the same thing it's always done. Slam is still reaching out to and for bigger audiences every year. I don't know what you mean by "better" audiences. Whatever it is I probably wouldn't like it. In any event, I think it is dangerous and flat-out wrong to color people who think slam isn't a competition, real or otherwise, as if they're over the hill or missing out on what Slam is "becoming." That is akin to suggesting that people should stop making family trees because, you know, we're way past those folks. Legacy isn't just there to act as a book of historical records for new poets to stand on while reaching for the sword-in-the-books trophy. Legacy also tells us why we're here doing this thing in this place in these ways. What comes to Slam has every right to evolve. I believe it is the hope of people who made Slam what it is that poets who come after them will evolve and take poetry to new places on and off the page and the stage...but that they use the tenets of Slam to do it, not change the tenets of Slam to fit their needs.

7) The only thing holding back poets and poetry is poets.
Not thinking of Slam as a competition first and foremost isn't holding back anybody. Bad poetry is holding back pets. Laziness is holding back poets. Unoriginal work is holding back poets. A lack in diversity of message and performance is holding back poets. Not publishing is holding back poets. In essence, poets are holding back poets. Slam ain't got shit to do with that.





« Last Edit: April 24, 2011, 09:03:31 PM by Scott Woods »

AmyD

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2011, 08:22:28 AM »
How many times have we seen resumes and press kits with the candidate listed as a "nationally ranked poet. " 

As an organizer, I see this all of the time. It makes me giggle. Writing samples or nothing, kid.

puroshaggy

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #4 on: April 25, 2011, 08:44:59 PM »
I love everything Scott wrote only because I think its awesome that so much thought went into it, that so many people may or may not get upset/inspired by it, that SLAM has become this beast that so many people use for so many different reasons.

Personally, I run the slam in San Antonio because a) I am super competitive, b) I love heckling and c) I love poets who embrace both.  Take the competition AND the heckling out of slam, and I am bored and I am off to start something called PLAM!  I love the fact that the poets and poetry fans in my city have created a scene that outright offends some poets and yet outright thrills others.  We look nothing like most of the slams in our own state, yet we are still a slam and proudly call ourselves a slam and call those other non-heckling wussy slams (kidding) our brothers and sisters.

Stop defining "Slam".  Yes, we have hoops to jump through (though most of us stumble through them) if we want to compete at NATS or WOWPS or IWPS, but those are necessary evils.  Other than that, make slam your own beast and put on the show you want to put on.  And if it feeds your audience's hunger, it will thrive.  If not, add some salt and sugar and try again.

Maybe I missed Scott's point entirely, but I love that post. 

MALIK ROSE!

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #5 on: April 25, 2011, 09:02:02 PM »
You all really make me love slam more and more when you talk about it this way.

LOVED reading this thread!
"Some people would rather lose their lives than lose freedom." ~Black Thought - The ROOTS

Scott Woods

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2011, 06:11:45 AM »
No, Shaggy, you got it. Ultimately Slam is about engagement between people and poetry. That is all it HAS to do.

jesster

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #7 on: April 28, 2011, 02:58:22 PM »
No, Shaggy, you got it. Ultimately Slam is about engagement between people and poetry. That is all it HAS to do.


I like this post. It's short. ;)

-Jesse

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2011, 06:53:12 PM »
My 2 cents. Slam is a Game played with poetry. It should be apparent that it is NOT simply a game of skill (while skill is involved - but that is completely up to the poet).

It is clearly a game of chance. Like all games of chance that are based on hope - the poet uses his skill to impress the judges enough and HOPE for a good score.

That Game IS indeed the Show. Which is good enough for me.
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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2011, 01:37:41 PM »

Trying to build a career off of slam winnings is like trying to pay your rent every month in a casino.

Slam is a competition the way poker is a competition. Poker is a game of both luck and skill. People who have recently won money at poker will tell you it's entirely about skill. People who have recently lost money at poker will tell you it's entirely luck.

Some of us, of course, just like to wear tuxedos and play cards.

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2011, 08:59:51 PM »

Trying to build a career off of slam winnings is like trying to pay your rent every month in a casino.

Slam is a competition the way poker is a competition. Poker is a game of both luck and skill. People who have recently won money at poker will tell you it's entirely about skill. People who have recently lost money at poker will tell you it's entirely luck.

Some of us, of course, just like to wear tuxedos and play cards.

Brilliantly put.
"Some people would rather lose their lives than lose freedom." ~Black Thought - The ROOTS

zork

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #11 on: May 06, 2011, 11:54:05 AM »
Uncle Scott, as a poet who produced and edited a Featurette for PSI's "Slam Safe II" called "Zork is a Loser", i agree absolutely with all you say.   Slam, as you say, is a FAMILY.   I spent most of my 47 years not fitting in.   Tall, red & goofy is not an easy life to live.  But Slam let me know there was a place where I could introduce my self for 3 - 30 minutes at a time [in open mics, slams & Features].   And once i knew there were those rooms where the world's shyest guy could actually say something heartfelt i found a home.  And since it's all about SHARING, i realized i was not so alone.   Because, when you get right down to it, we are all pretty darn weird [Shappy may be weirder than most].   But i have a Librarian uncle in Ohio.   I have another armor expert Uncle in Worcester, MA.  I have a dad in Anne Arbor, MI.   And i have brothers and sisters across the country with couches i am crash on.   All my life i thought i was stuck with a great but small family [i love you mom & brosky-woesky].  Who would have thunk that i would become a poet [i HATED poetry till i was 31] and have the world's biggest and greatest family.

All of that said, i have seen the Featurette: "Zork is a Loser"!  And i love losing slams whenever i can.

And i love you Uncle Scott.

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #12 on: May 06, 2011, 01:10:54 PM »

Trying to build a career off of slam winnings is like trying to pay your rent every month in a casino.

Slam is a competition the way poker is a competition. Poker is a game of both luck and skill. People who have recently won money at poker will tell you it's entirely about skill. People who have recently lost money at poker will tell you it's entirely luck.

Some of us, of course, just like to wear tuxedos and play cards.

The poker analogy doesn't completely apply to poetry slam because there are no group of spectators called judges picking who wins the poker game.

And because poetry slam judges have no rigorous standards or usually no experience to judge the poetry with (as in some Olympic contests or dance competitions or even a sonnet contest)  - they usually seem to go with an overall visceral emotional response. That means, that no matter how skillful of a poet you are, if the judges don't have a favorable emotional connection to your poem you COULD lose.

That means, because emotions are fickle and have degrees of intensity, the element of chance can trump skill at any given moment in a slam.

Now one can skillfully weave a poem that appeals to the visceral response of judges and win. But then the question becomes, did the poet win based on simple principles of craft or the balance of craft and emotional appeal? Of course, most would claim skill.

That is neither good nor bad nor legitimizes nor de-legitimizes the competitive or poetic aspects of poetry slam for me. Most of the shit we do in life is about getting people to like you. You can't get pussy or be President unless somebody likes you.

 But 85% of the time, I believe the judges get it right when they pick the winner under certain circumstances.
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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #13 on: May 06, 2011, 07:25:41 PM »
Zork: I hope no one misconstrues my comments to mean that Slam is a family.  That is precisely what I do NOT want slam to be.  I mean, seriously, how many family members are you completely honest with?  How many do you encourage or praise when you should be discouraging or condemning? Art does not need family.  Poetry does not need family.  I'm sorry, but if someone thinks you suck and they sincerely want you to improve as a poet, they should tell you, You Suck!  This rarely happens in slam.  My venue is badmouthed quite often (people like to tattle to me on other people...sigh) because if our audience gets bored, we encourage- explicitly state each night, actually- the audience to boo, yell You Suck!, Car Wash Clap (our own form of heckling), etc.  No feelings spared because it is not about you, the individual, it is about what you put out there as poetry in an attempt to slam.  Slam is The Show, and if any element of the show is weak, strengthen it! This includes bad poets.

I have no problems with people who look to slam for family.  We all look to different things for that (I'm a Deadhead!) but for me and for what I am doing in San Antonio, that is not what I want slam to be.

Bro Said: Well put.

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Re: Slam: "Mock" Competition- What are the national events today?
« Reply #14 on: May 06, 2011, 08:01:21 PM »
puroshaggy, I am lucky to have a small, but loving AND honest family.   Ask LV and she will tell you that my mom is amazing, but ALSO about VERY tough & honest love.   And so i think the slam "family" [at its best] can have both the love AND the honesty.   In 1996 Faith Vicinanza [host of 97 Nationals] in Bethel, CT introduced me to slam and as far as tough love, i used to LOVE going to the poetry workshops of 8-10 of the crew.   And each week i would workshop a poem and the love would be TOOOOOOUGH.   And i loved that.   And i think that Pappa Marsh, Uncle Bill Uncle Scott, Mr.  McGee, Pappa Smith and the many, many members of my extended family will always show me love, but ALSO honesty.

And, i do think that slam is VERY complicated microcosm.  I think it is about many things and at its core Pappa Smith did want to create a new audience for poets and poetry and to do that by making it FUN for non poets.   That is where 1 poet open mics, 3 minute limits, audience interaction, 3 act structure etc come in.   And, yes, i think it is a MUST for every poet to do there best to ENTERTAIN and also for the whole event to be seen as "How to ENTERTAIN poetry lovers AND haters for 90 minutes or more. "

Pappa Smith i think was NOT trying to create a foster home for tall, red & goofy geeks that did not fit in.   But personally, that was a happy accident.   My [real] brother is the MIT rocket scents and smart one.   So all i know about the chaos theory is that there is something called "chaos theory" and that the universe works in REALLY weird ways.   I HATED poetry all my life till age 31.   Now i am a poet [some might say].  And now my family and life centers around poetry.   Now i teach poetry and try to get 2nd graders through 12th graders to go from hating poetry to loving it.  And i do it by standing on chairs and babbling about how PASSION, SOUND and STRUCTURE when pencil is put to page is ALMOST as good as Dunkin Donuts coffee.  But what i have been taught and try to teach is that all that passion and performance is meant to INTRODUCE yourself to a community that will listen and then to listen back.   Slam is a place to hear and to be heard.   And to love, support & encourage anyone and everyone who is heartfelt and trying to find there voice.   My favorite poets are ALWAYS the 1st time poets and the super shy poets.   I love seeing people breaking out of there shells in a room where they are given mad-mule applause for doing just that.

I'm babbling now, but sometimes Uncle Scott and the rest of my family let me do that.   Ask LV & My mom, i babble all the time at home too.   They also often [lovingly] tell me my 3 minutes is up and to shut the bleep up.

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