I don't know which is worse: the disillusion of discovering a person or passion is a hypocritical farce or having to be the person who exposes the farce to someone who still has faith in the person or passion. I'm lucky that the passion I'm writing about, slam poetry, was created to be a farce. It's just a shame that so many people who devote their time and energy to slam poetry forget that it's always been, at its heart, a self-aware hoax.
If you're one of the blessed many who has never been to a poetry slam, here's the spiel that a slam host will often present to an audience: Slam poetry was invented in the 1980s by a Chicago construction worker named Marc Smith (and here, the poets and audience members familiar with how seriously Marc takes his creation shout "So what?!") who wanted to take poetry out of the textbooks and stuffy halls of academia and present it to the people to be judged. This is all you need to know about slam: some drunk guy thought poetry would be more popular is it was a bar game that the audience felt they had a stake in. Nothing else about slam matters. Even Marc Smith's name is mostly irrelevant. It's one of the few real names I'll use in this book because even the most luddite uncle can google well enough to reveal his role as Slampapi, and since he was on his route to distance himself from slam just as I was beginning to engage in it, I don't have anything defamatory to say about him except Thanks for inadvertantly establishing a series of communities in which I've wasted nearly two valuable decades of my life. Dingleberry.
Two decades is a long time to be involved in any mostly non-paying arts community. I'm tempted to add the caveat that I didn't live and breathe slam for twenty-four hours a day since 1998 but that's not precisely true. I can't identify a single second in the perp walk of my memory that hasn't been somehow influenced by my time in slam. It's not quite like being locked in a room and forced to watch the entire run of Two And A Half Men on a loop for twenty years, it's more like having to live your life in a room where Two And A Half Men is constantly playing on the TV. You can mute it. You can turn and face the other way. But you can usually see it in your peripheral vision, and even when you shut your eyes, you know it will be there when you open them. Plus, someone you like will come into the room and tell you how the show used to be better before Ashton Kutcher replaced Charlie Sheen. No matter how many times you explain that taste is subjective and that it's always been more or less the same shit writing staff with only slightly different shit actors, they will still clamor their irrelevant opinions as though they were facts.
Very little of what I will tell you are facts. They are my highly subjective perspectives on my experiences.
I recently read another poet's memoir on slam and was ludicrously angry that they portrayed an event I'd designed and hosted, erased me from it, and given credit to a poet who'd called for a boycott of my work because she thought me and my event were problematic. When I expressed this anger to a mutual colleague, I said something to the effect of This whole book is a series of poorly written, unresearched, uninteresting lies.
"It's a memoir." She said. "You can't refer to someone's experience as a lie."
This is a series of stories about my experiences with slam poets. It's filled with lies. Some of them are mine.
You don't need to worry about guns in the first act going off in the second. I'm anti-gun. Sure, some words will blow up in my face but that happens to everyone. Some people are just smart enough to leave the room and scrub the letters off their face as soon as possible. I threaded mine into a beard.
The title of this book, The Box Of Doom, comes from an event I'm associated with in the slam community, though I did not invent it. The Box Of Doom is a celebration of bad art. A curator, often me, collects poems they find offensively bad (not offensive to someone's political leanings, offensive to one's taste in writing) poems, song lyrics, or piece of prose they can find, and puts it in a box or a waste paper basket or a child's potty training chair. A participant blindly draws a piece of writing from the box and has to perform it with little or know preparation.
This book is pretty much stream of consciousness. I'm sure I'll edit it with the help of my many wonderful under-appreciated friends, but there's no outline. I'll be using certain prompts and literary devices to inspire sections. I hope you don't find them too gimmicky.
Part of my desire not to outline this is that there are certain parts of my time amongst slam poets that enrage me. I don't want to think about them until I absolutely have to write about them. Unlike your average shitty slam poem, I'm not going to tell you why you should agree with or disagree with me or my thesis. Part of the aforementioned emcee spiel states Judges, be true to yourselves. Don't be swayed by the audience's uninformed opinions. This is usually immediately followed by Audience, these judges don't know what the fuck they're doing, sway the hell out of them.
If you've never been to or heard of slam poetry before, I hope this book sways you to learn more about it.
If you're someone interested in getting involved with slam poetry, I hope this book encourages you to run screaming. In which direction is entirely up to you.
If you're a member of a slam scene hoping to encounter a character resembling you, god luck! If I don't love you or your work, or hate your hypocrisy, I probably don't remember you, no matter how clever your stage name is or how many colors your hair was dyed when we I stood in a room while you yelled at me and other strangers.
If you Know you're in this book and end up being pleased with how you're portrayed, I'm glad. I probably wish I could better reflect how vital you were to me continuing to stay involved with slam. It's been difficult to hate a thing so many people that I love are interested in.
If you Know you're in this book and you become angry at how a certain fictitious character resembles your flaws, maybe talk to your therapist about it. Also, consider this: slam poetry was intended as a movement not a genre, yet a generation of certain poets will be identified as slam poets in the way that certain poets of the mid-twentieth century were labeled beat poets. Outside of people passionate about poetry, most people can only name four beat poets: the accused pedophile whose work was labeled obscenity, the heroin addict who shot his wife in the head and killed her, the guy who opened the press and the bookstore, and the one the other three were in love with. The most widely published and taught in schools was the one the other three were in love with.
I'm not the one everyone loves. I am currently investigating opening a bookstore.
Just For You!
This page features writing and updates for Patreon supporters only.