Responsibilities of a Slam

Posted: April 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

A number of things have me rethinking some of my personal policies about slam. It is important that I talk about this because, by default, my personal policies about slam tend to become the policies of Capital Slam, unless we discuss them and I discover that my views do not reflect those of the collective. This has happened here and there, but rarely about something important.

This time it is important.

There are some every important conversations going on about slam as a safe space. While this has been happening we have also had to deal with an incident of racist language being used on our stage. While this is going on I have been reading one of Marc Smith’s book about slam (So what? seems appropriate here…). Mr. Smith’s version of a slam (and he invented it) is quite different in some important respects from how it has developed (at least in these parts).

None of these concepts are new, but through this perfect storm of ideas I have thought of other beliefs that I hold around slam. Are random judges actually random? (A: Of course not) Are audiences able to police what happens on stage. (A: That depends.)

So… what should audiences do if they hear something that offends them on stage? If they are not a judge, the only response they have is vocal (or a lack of being vocal) or choosing to not attend a show. Obviously the latter is something that doesn’t help fix a situation.

So… do we encourage audiences to react negatively when they hear something they do not ‘like’? That seems to make sense, but I have been spending the last six years telling people that we need to support the poets in order to create an atmosphere that makes them feel ‘safe’ to share their words.

Can we support and admonish at the same time?

And, if this seems like an easy answer when someone is being openly racist or misogynistic, what do you do when you here a single word or phrase that offends, within an otherwise good poem?

Unlike many of these conversations, where questions are posed just so the poser can manipulate the answers where they want them, I am really at odds about a lot of this and I would REALLY like some feedback. This COULD change how we deal with things at CapSlam.

Please, let me know.

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Comments
  1. Rod Pederson says:

    Ethics are a collective thing. We decide as a group what we’ll tolerate, what we won’t. We snap when we like something. That’s communicating a judgement. Do our judgements always have to affirm? Don’t we sometimes judge things to be wrong? And when we do, should we hold back from expressing them? Where there is wrong don’t we encourage it by letting it pass? I think we do. And that’s wrong. We need a means of expressing disapproval of those things we believe to be wrong. And silence isn’t it.

  2. Robin Le William-North says:

    Definitely important questions…
    As Ron said, silence cannot be the ideal way for disapproval. Not in an open forum – which is what a slam is in the way… But then what?

    I’d need more time to come with any further suggestion… I still feel really “young” with slam…

    But I wanted to acknowledge your move to trigger debat, Rusty. Thanks!

  3. Bruce Narbaitz says:

    Tough issue.

    I think it is possible to support and admonish at the same time…but I don’t think we do that by encouraging audiences to “boo” when a poet says something they disagree with. Perhaps if the content of a poem is clearly not acceptable a representative of Cap Slam could talk to them privately, rather than allowing them to be shamed publicly. I think booing will really harm the safe atmosphere that makes people feel confident enough to perform and share of themselves.

    I think we need to be careful not to fall into a form of censorship though. I’m writing two poems right now which I think are reasonable and logical…however it’s quite likely that some people might be offended because I am raising a viewpoint that is contrary to the dominant beliefs within the slam community.

    I agree some things are wrong and some things should be discouraged…but I think that we should A- maintain a reasonable tolerance for opposing viewpoints (and therefore avoid interfering with the poetry unless necessary) and B- deal with infractions respectfully and privately.

    • rpriske says:

      This is exactly the conundrum I am facing.

      The problem is, by saying that we need to support the poets ons tage no matter what, to ensure that they feel confident that the space is safe for them, are we creating a situation where the space doesn’t feel safe for OTHER people, poets or otherwise?

      I just don’t have an answer…

  4. Bruce Narbaitz says:

    It is a hard situation.

    But I don’t think that a lack of support for an offensive poet will make the audience feel safer. For example: a poet does a blatantly racist poem. The audience heckles him/her. Does the audience feel safer? Maybe somewhat, but people are still going to be offended and hurt regardless of whether they have the power to “Boo” and scream “Lower” at the scores.

    I think that in the rare circumstances that someone crosses the line, we need to privately talk to them rather than publicly shaming them. If need be we can ban them from performing in the future. But I think that publicly condemning certain poets/poems is a slippery slope towards preventing dissenting opinions.

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