“If we want a beloved community, we must stand for justice, have recognition for difference without attaching difference to privilege.”
― bell hooks
"Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys. The aftermath of the ‘fight with fire’ method…is bitterness and chaos, the aftermath of the love method is reconciliation and creation of the beloved community.
—Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
Beloved Poetry Slam Community,
I, Karen Garrabrant, aka, KG, Karen G., Slam mama, am rolling up my sleeves and volunteering for a job with the spine of our organization, the EC. Many of you don’t know me at all, some from my infamous hugs and those who know me better, by my loud mouth, laughter, and competitive gristle. Although I would rather be famous for hugs and the ability to love more than anything else, I am best known by those closest to me to be honest, focused, attentive, tough on task, respectful, and Germanic in attention to detail and deadlines. I come from a page poetry background using work-shopping methods. Carolyn Forche and the poetry of witness are big influences on me, as are DIY aesthetics from punk music. I mention this because it’s how I proceed in life and how I found slam poetry. We often speak from the margins of culture to the center in a participatory fashion, rather than performer or lecturer to audience, we seek to engage, to make words into direct action with an audience.
I’m fascinated by the way different scenes and regions still manage to retain unique flavor and representative voices against the grain of homogenized and globalized culture. I have toured around the country and Vancouver as a poet-performer, but also as an observer. I believe there is always more to learn about what we do as artists and creators. I do not believe everything has been said or expressed before and I have great admiration for scenes who are not satisfied with their most recent achievements, continuing instead to push forward and expand the sides of the stage (Example: One of the elements of Denver NUBA’s win? At regionals, I overheard how they could make their performance better, even as judges rattled off their winning scores, making it even less about the game, more about the show. I think this is symbolic of how we should be moving forward as a whole organization, by remaining inquisitive, curious, asking how we can improve, even as we succeed). I believe in the right now of slam poetry and that the work expressed now is some of the best I’ve ever heard, that I enjoy more than I don’t. If there comes I time when I dislike more poetry than I like, then it will be my time to retire. If a person doesn’t have a positive view of slam poetry right now, I am of the opinion that that person shouldn’t be running to serve the community of right now. I value poetry as work and honoring that work and I value slam teams as representative of the voices behind them, the regulars and ancestors people carry with them.
I adore poetry slam for being a rare space where professionals and our own cult heroes share a stage toe-to-toe with rookies and are subjected to the same rules, as if a band on the cover of Rolling Stone could share the stage with someone in your local paper. There is a lot that works right with PSI and I seek to honor and extend the basic integrity of the event. I am not an elitist and I believe the very heart of slam is not elitist, either.
This is not to say the status quo is fine. There is also room for growth. I have a few things I would like to see happen, but I want to stress that I am not running for a position on the EC with an agenda on my mind or a grocery list of changes I am pushing to happen. I arrive to this process open, with rolled up sleeves, as a willing enthusiast for the art of organizational work.
As I am in other areas of organization and as a poet who loves poetry and listening even more than speaking, my ears will always be tuned in to consider various points, opposing or not. As a host, poet, slam master, coach and fan, I already negotiate between these spaces. I’m someone comfortable with being in the middle and still seeing both sides, which I think is an essential quality for someone in a leadership position. I also have years of experience in art organization.
I’m qualified with board membership and work in my hometown as a founding director of Girls’ Rock Camp ATL, I co-curated two Ladyfests, serve as programming partner with Charis Books and More, co-founded and host the monthly, eleven year old series Cliterati, in addition to running Art Amok Poetry Slam.
My commitment to PSI and poetry slam in general is ironclad. I have only missed one Nationals- level event since 2004 and have yet to miss any slam master meeting. Before fielding my first team in 2006, I did my research first by asking a lot of questions and volunteering. I continue to learn by visiting, hosting and competing in different regional competitions as often as I am financially able.
Some of my other skills include seeing a job and pairing people to that work, match-making people to tasks and people to each other. Poets on tour maybe familiar with me as a resource to venues and events around the South East, and I see the process of staying informed and updated as a constant one. I admit that one of my faults is that sometimes I am more focused on the big picture than the smaller ones, yet I think this fault can be turned to an advantage when poised for a nationally-focused EC position. I work in a library by day, so I enjoy researching answers and disseminating information.
Carrying over from the work I do during the day, I’m very aware of not only the preservation of the past in archived material, but in the going forward of technology and open access. I feel like PSI and poetry slam is in a similar position. Some questions I’d like to explore as part of the EC are issues we’ve seen cycle through from time to time. I come bearing questions more than agendas. I would like to see better transparency of processes and decision making as well as extending the accessibility of poetry and what we do.
How do we maintain a revenue stream with live or U streaming events? Could it be possible to migrate from DVD formats to downloadable ones? Who in the community can help with the archival work and dissemination of performance material? Taz and company do a miraculous job, Gabrielle did a wonderful job--how can we make that work easier? How can we make what happens at our events more accessible to those back home or an on-line public? How can we better serve poets in our community in financial distress or without healthcare? How can we continue to work on our own internalized –isms and encourage workshops to align what we preach with practices/making words into action? What are some of the essential, codified elements to our event and what are some we can rotate out to keep it fresh? How can we adapt elements of Tourettes Without Regrets, Real Talk Live & the Encyclopedia Show and learn from other slam outlets like Black on Black Rhyme? How can we make our events more accessible to poets with children? What should we put on cities and what should PSI do? Should we consider narrowing host cities to regional areas and rotate between them? How can statistical analysis of scores develop the best, most fair rotation for poets and teams? With the expansion of included teams, should our finals include more than 4x4? How can we better utilize the wide array of talented people in our community and incorporate their skill sets into our organization with media, grant writing, accounting, PR, etc.? How can we make sharing information more accessible to all?
These are all questions I bring to bear from issues I have heard brought up here and there over time, by poets, by slam masters, by leadership. I look forward to designing answers to these questions with current/future members of the EC, who I respect and would be excited to work with, as well as poets, peers in slam mastership, coaches, devoted audience members, and anyone else. If you have any questions for me or wonder about my voting records, I welcome them.
I will be honored to serve my community with this EC or to run again in the future.
Thank you very much for your consideration,