What started as a bit of a lark back in March 1998—when myself, Lynne Procope, and Roger Bonair-Agard took over the space at Bar 13 on Monday nights and started our own reading series—not only survived 16+ years in the deteriorating cultural landscape of New York City (and the fickle tastes of bar owners always looking for the next new shiny), but thrived, throughout myriad trials and turmoils—some external, some self-inflicted—as a weekly oasis of poetry that occasionally bent but never broke.
The slam isn’t the automatic audience draw it used to be (for us, at least), and I can’t help but wonder if that’s partly because, a long time ago, the organized slam became much less about putting on a good show for the audience and providing an open forum for a variety of voices, and more about establishing an alternative career path for a select group of poets. The revolution gone corporate, as so often happens.
I’ve always been fascinated (and frustrated) by poetry’s “delicate snowflake” status, and how such a diverse variety of forms, styles, and voices often gets lumped into such a generic, cavernous category, like literary fiction and graphic novels. One of the things I’ve always loved about good anthologies and open mics is the inherent (or the potential for) diversity in those formats, something that’s not clearly communicated on bookstore shelves nor the Dewey Decimal system.
I’ve noted often in the past that most of what I preach and practice when it comes to marketing and community-building, I learned during those four years of Mondays, and by the end of the night last Monday, I realized how big a hole I’d created when I walked away from that part of my life. So, I’m back.
Interestingly, Spiegelman nails the underlying problem with poetry in general, though he seems to imply it’s a flaw related more to a poet’s level of experience with form rather than an inherent flaw in poetry in general, but especially that written for the page. While formal poetry has never been my cup of tea, the vast majority of poetry — formal and free verse, written and oral — actually bores me to tears for the exact reasons Spiegelman notes.