Poetry Wednesday: A Few of My Favorite Slams

It’s been so long since I did a Poetry Wednesday around here. I miss it, sometimes, especially when my poetry folder falls off the printer and a cascade of metaphors flutter everywhere and cover the cat.

Another folder that’s becoming unwieldy is the one in my browser, which is full of articles, lyrics, and possibly three-fourths of The Poetry Foundation website.

And videos. Because I love slam poetry, too.

In an effort to rescue some of those amazing performed works that are at risk of moving so far down the list that they can never be retrieved, I thought I’d share a few of the ones that spoke most strongly to me at this time and in this place.

Like Jesse Parent’s advice, which turns out not only to be for those who want to date his daughter, but who want to know how to raise one of their own:

I found several by Taylor Mali—he of the fabulous “I’ll Fight You For the Library” which I adore more than is probably healthy—but chose this one because we are all teachers and we should all teach like this, even and especially starting at 2:52:

And then this one left me wondering if Mark Grist is single—I’m not, but I have many, many friends who might like to meet a man with tastes like his and it’s wonderful to know that they exist:

And because it’s been one of those weeks and Ms. Ferro made me laugh so hard I cried, out of recognition and hope and because it’s #$@!ing hilarious:

So . . . what spoke to you this week?


I’d already compiled this when I found out that John Shaw,
amazing poet and good friend, has a poem in the Front Porch Review
but I didn’t want to wait.

It’s called “Periodicity“,
and as I told him, it made me feel all the warmth of being young on a summer day,
which is a most welcome miracle.

Go read it.

Poetry Wednesday: Popcorn, a Poet

Kioni Marshall is a poet.

She’s been writing poems for more than half her life and has been performing in some of the most prestigious venues in New York for almost five years.

Her words are raw and refined and playful and edged and full of the kinds of feelings we don’t want to face and need to face and face every day of our lives.

She is talented, she is sharp, and she is far braver with her words than many of us will ever be.

Ms. Marshall is thirteen years old.


Lines from ‘Forgotten,” and from one or two of the other poems I’ve been able to find, have been echoing in my mind’s ear all week—these works have longevity beyond the novelty of their creator’s age.

Ms. Marshall was featured in a series about prodigies about  a year ago, but as I watched her episode, I realized that I wasn’t watching a a short piece about a kid who likes writing poetry—I was being allowed to observe the processes of a fine poet in the early part of her writing life.  Period.

Thank you, Ms. Marshall, for reminding us how it’s done.

And why.

Something Driving

I confess that I was going to share the amazing Dove advertisement about our misperceptions of our own appearances—but several hundred people beat me to it.

But that’s okay, because I found a video* of fifteen-year old Noah St. John explaining a misperception of his own—one that had me reaching for the tissue box and smiling at the same time:



You have until Midnight (CST) tonight
to enter
the Libraries (and Librarians) are Awesome Poetry Contest!

Write a poem and get your name put in the Hat of Win
for an Amazing Prize Drawing.
(which isn’t a drawing of an amazing prize, I promise)

It’s that easy.

Details are here!


*On Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, from whence many excellent videos and book reviews come.

Poetry Wednesday: I F%$&ing Love the Library

Librarian StereotypeAs I mentioned last year during National Library Week, most poems about libraries are sticky with cotton candy rhymes and syrupy sentimental nostalgia for days that never were—I’m paraphrasing—but I managed at the time to find a few that weren’t written with children in mind (check ’em out, pun intended).

I didn’t think I’d be that lucky this year and had planned to do another poetry contest in which I would bribe you with an Amazing Prize in exchange for writing an original poem about how libraries are sacred trusts worthy of all tax levies and librarians the most wondrous creatures ever to interpret the vagaries of the cataloging systems on your behalf and admonish you in dulcet tones to turn off your cell phone, please, and the young ladies on that screen had better be wearing clothes, mister—and the goat, too.

But then I found this, by Laura Brown Lavoie:

And remembered this one, by Taylor Mali, on the importance of academic libraries:*

Note the distinct lack of rhyme and the surplus of awesome.

We clearly need more of these library (and librarian)  affirmations in poetry form . . .

So I guess I’m throwing a bribefest contest after all!

Your challenge: Write a poem about libraries and/or librarians and share it  in the comments of this post (or e-mail it to me).  If you do, your name will be entered into the Hat of Win for an Amazing Prize.**

Any type of poem, any (or no) rhyme scheme, four line minimum.   Anyone who sends me a video of their original slam poem automatically gets a Special Prize, because whoa.

The usual rules apply:

Untitled1. If you write a poem with phrases that rhyme with Nantucket or otherwise use innuendo that goes beyond what my kids are savvy enough to detect, e-mail it to me.  If you don’t know the difference (Kev), e-mail me just to be sure.

2.If you don’t want to share your poem with the general public, e-mail it to me and remind me not to post it—I retain the right to argue (liligrif) but I’ll respect your wishes.  If you win and prefer I don’t know your mailing address,   we’ll work something out.

3. If you’re related to me by known biology or marriage, you’re welcome to write a poem, but you can’t win.  Sorry.

4. National Library Week ends April 20th, and so does this contest, at Midnight CST (that’s Chicago time).

If you have any questions, let me know.

And if you can’t bring yourself to write a poem, go tell your local library staff how much you appreciate them.***  If you get a photo of it and send it to me, I’ll toss your name in the Hat.


* I know I’ve shared it before, but that was for a Random Thursday last August, so I can totally use it again.  Taylor Mali bears repeating as often as possible, anyway.  And it’s my blog.

** “She calls that a prize?  Amazing . . . ”

***If you don’t appreciate them, then . . . I got nothin’.

Poetry Wednesday: Anatomy of a Slam

Poetry readings are a mixed bag.

I’ll fully admit that I’m a sucker for a gorgeous, trained voice, and when that voice, which usually flows from a professional actor, is reading, say W. H. Auden or  Shakespeare,* or even Lewis flippin’ Carroll, I’m there, ears fully dilated.  But given a voice lovely enough, I’d probably enjoy a recitation of the 1895 by-laws of Poughkeepsie, starting with the ordinance restricting  hay carts of specifically outlined dimensions from traveling through residential boulevards.**

But when poets, even well-known ones, read their own stuff, it’s often (and please pardon the pun) a crap shoot.

I have been to several public readings where the poet stands, pages in hand and in front of face, mumbling into a microphone at exactly the wrong distance.  And since the poems they read aren’t a hundred years old or read at every wedding and bar mitzvah, the audience can’t help.

Of course, a lot of poetry is meant to be read silently, one’s eyes following the trails of the words that shape themselves into visible art on the page while they speak intimately into one’s inner ear.  Most of e.e. cummings’ poems are like this.

But some poetry is meant to be performed, to ring in one’s outer ears and shake things up inside.  And the performance of the speaker—the emphasis, the cadence, the gestures— is as important as the poem.

In many ways, the poem is the performance and vice versa—a symbiosis.

Leonard Cohen‘s poems are like this.  Slam poetry is like this.

Humor me a minute:

The transcript to Katie Makkai’s  poem”Pretty” is here.  Read it, please, think about it, then come back and watch this:

The poem is powerful on the page, but Ms. Makkai’s performance of it transfixes.  And I can tell you right now that if I were to recite “Pretty” in front of you, no matter how much I deeply believe what it says,  it wouldn’t be half of what it could be.

Not only because I’m not the poet, but because I’m not the performer it needs.

Omar Holman may be my favorite male slam poet and not only because he skillfully incorporates everything from Snapple to love to Bob Barker to rage to obscure riffs on nerd culture.  His delivery is so present, so personal, that it becomes natural to respond immediately, to the point where it’s difficult to hear his lines over the audience’s appreciation— or rather, participation.

But for Mr. Holman, it’s clearly an energy exchange:

Not all slam poetry is angry or anxious.  Some of it is outright hilarious—Omar Holman’s “Contingency: 8 Things I Tell Myself Whenever I Forget a Poem” moves me to tears—and some is full of hope and steady determination.

Sarah Kay’s slam poetry, simply put, is full of grace.  I could try to describe her style and substance, but it’s probably better if I just get out of her way—letting  performance poets speak for themselves is really the point, isn’t it?

I will say that  had a difficult time choosing which one of her poems to share, but as I inadvertently appear to have stumbled on a motherhood theme of sorts, I went with “For My Daughter”:

See what I mean?


*Though, honestly I’m just about over sonnet 130, which appears to be the Go-To  Classic whenever a lovely-voiced male actor records a selection of poetry.  I’ll agree that it’s one of Shakespeare’s most interesting, but logic (and laziness on my part) dictates that he did write at least 129 others and it might be nice if these talented actors—or their producers—selected a new one to interpret.  Or, in the case of Benedict Cumberbatch and, say, Clancy Brown (who hasn’t recorded any poetry I can find, but should, please)all of them.

**I’m making that up, but I’ll bet you a dollar that if Poughkeepsie has older boulevards, there’s a law in there somewhere because people who lived on boulevards appear to have been uniformly and consistently prickly about traffic on their streets and how it might affect their lawns.  Except for the punctuation and the offending vehicles, it’s exactly the sort of thing you might see today on the editorial page.  The more things change . . .