note: this was originally posted on my personal tumblr 7 months ago during the 2015 Louder Than Bomb competition. my current recommendation is more workshops centered around community/writing etc included in next year’s festival (hopefully at least as an extension of the Queeriosity program 🙂 ). I look forward to continuing the discussion and thank everyone who makes LTAB possible! – +, 10/26/2015
In my experience, poets on the Louder Than A Bomb stage tend to perform provocative pieces about being great writers, free thinkers, and cultural revolutionaries; eager to break free of oppressive molds and affirm their truest self. With respect to the urgency of that spirit, I speak:
When I was in high school I pretty much only wrote “slam pieces” during the school year. Not just “slam pieces” but LTAB pieces.
In 2007 the Morgan Park High School team I was on made it to finals. I think we came in fourth. My piece was/is called “Price of Retribution.” In it I spoke to a Catholic priest who had abused a child and on behalf of the child who grew up to eventually speak out. I don’t remember my scores, they weren’t great. I’m proud forever, but I can admit now that on that Finals stage a good amount of my performance style was keyed up to make it seem like I was more emotional than I actually felt. Not for the audience, not even on behalf of my subjects, but for the scores.
Yesterday I went to LTAB semifinals. I went to the 4-6 PM bout and was a VIP judge for 7-9PM.
I left several times during the first semis bout. I was disturbed by the consistently upsetting content. I had to call a friend for help. To calm down and also to ask how I was supposed to judge in this setting. My friend asked me -my- criteria, I chose out of what they offered: word choice and complexity of approach to the subject matter.
In my experience, homogeneity has increased exponentially as the slam artform has gained in popularity and prestige. Fellow competitors (and current organizers) have talked about this trend for years behind doors and occasionally through satirical performance.
I gave 7s in my bout when I judged yesterday and people yelled and booed and ridiculed me the entire time. I can tell you, as objectively as I can, that those pieces of art entered into competition with one another were indistinguishable in terms of content, performance style, and diction. Within the bout itself and especially in relation to the hundreds of #LTAB poems I’ve seen in years past.
Louder Than A Bomb has become a themed slam. And a mold to fit or be rejected from. And when I thought that that was all these children, these judges, or these slams were good for I wasn’t thinking hard enough about what kids are actually capable of.
LTAB being presumed as the most authentic voice of these children is inaccurate. And dangerous, not least when it comes to the dis-ability of someone to dissent from affirming that concept.
If I see an [ethnic background] poet onstage and they are using their 20 or so lines in the group piece to yell about how they are more than the stereotype of [ethnic background], at this point of the culture on some level it can feel like they have unwittingly re-become a different kind of caricature for a different kind of audience’s gaze. Is that still as powerful as they can be, as an artist or human? As liberated? What other ways do they write? And when they “lose” with this specific presentation of self, in this specific format of a format of a format, and have been made to feel like this their most authentic outlet…Well, IDK.
My definitive question is, is LTAB now encouraging children to tell us only what we want to hear, how we want to hear it? And worse, are we tokenizing pain- actually encouraging insincerity as the norm? If not, then why is the slam the way it is? And what can we, as a community of thinkers, competitors, and co-creators do to shift to something more expansive and inclusive?
I made tweets criticizing the first slam and it embroiled me in some serious conflict with a few organizers of the event during.
My initial tweets read:
rly disappointed in & unenthused by this #LTAB semis. it feels formulaic, uninspired. “every piece” is quivering voices, generic complaints
and all the scores are like 8.5s. realized what a specific event this is (has become) #ltab
The organizers feel that I was belittling the children. Given the sensitive, passionate nature of my self, the children, the organizers, and the cause itself I hope you can empathize with how difficult and tenuous this is. I am trying to be direct. And kind. I do not intend to be destructive. Ever. Forgive me, please. I offer this essay to give background to my truest, most complex thoughts.
“The point is not the points, the point is the poetry.”