My writing friends know I’m working on a fictional story about a Slam Poetry team, the climax of which could be a transgendered youth performing a love poem to the unsuspecting main character, Liam, aka Shakespeare. For some of the research I’ve attended many slams particularly of Hamilton Youth Poets. I love their metaphoric rants and am addicted.
Then I thought I would have to write a poem and participate in an all ages open mic. I read a poem about ageism called Relevance. That went very well.
For December 27, IF was slated as the performance poet. I watched the CBC video on him; he won 2nd place in the Paris, France, World Finals. He’s closer to my age than the average Slam Poet too. Inspirational.
I decided I would write another poem on behalf of my novel’s secondary character Kevin and for this Slam I would perform, not read, my poems. You need two to compete.
Kevin is transitioning to Kristin with no support from family. While the Slam Team supports him through this painful period, when he performs a love poem to our unsuspecting main character, it’s too much for him. Shakespeare cannot return Kristin’s romantic love.
When I take on a character, I very much become him or her, even secondary ones. I really feel Kristin’s pain and wrote from his heart.
A December 27th performance is not easy. I did not get the opportunity to walk and talk and live the poems the way you need to in order to perform well. My big challenge was just to perform them without going blank in the middle. I read the poems, recited them while preparing supper, got “Tessa” my South African computer voice to read it to me.
Could I get through the performance without blanking in the middle?
Amazing with so much public speaking behind my belt, how hard and fast my heart rattled as my time approached. I was slated for last in the first round.
It went okay, I managed not to totally stutter to a stop but I dropped a couple of lines. The judges cards went up–I scored a couple of sevens but mostly eights. Mediocre but the point is not the points.
Then we were all treated to IF’s performance which unfortunately felt muted to me by the rattling of my own heart and nerves.
Next round I performed first. Kevin/Kristin’s poem went much better for me. I felt her pain as I recited. No dropped lines. I was happy with my own recital
The shocker was one of the lowest scores I’ve ever heard. A four, amongst sevens and low eights. Hmmm. I know the four was just one opinion but I didn’t hear any “Listen to the poet!” protests. I have to accept that the audience did not like the poem performance.
Failure is important. I believe if you don’t fail you don’t try enough new things.
But what to do with this? Should I totally rewrite the poem? I tend to be a flat writer with clear and easy readability not the glorious metaphors others are so proficient at. Poetry is a lovely release and challenge at the same time. Was it the idea that I was role performing that lost me authenticity? Was it because it was a love poem? They lean toward smarm at the best of times. Was the judge offended?
Problem is I’ll never know. The Slam is not a workshop, there is no feedback, just points or lack there of. However, I can, in fact, give my character these exact scores and my own feelings as well as his own. He attempts suicide immediately following his performance.
A wonderful outcome was that all the slammers won a prize that night. A donation dinner was made to Micah House, a home dedicated to welcoming and assisting refugees.
And I feel very privileged to have been able to take part in this evening. Thank you and a happy New Year to Nea Reid, who makes all this Slam happen, to the Hamilton Youth Poets, who bare their souls so lyrically. And to all of you!