OLD ESSAY// #LTAB2015, observations and feelings

 

ltab2007

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.”

the homies blog//INTERVIEW: talking with transqueer author H. Melt about their new book “The Plural, The Blurring”

h.melt bio photo

Photo by Kiam Marcelo Junio

H. Melt is my friend. It feels really good to say that! H. Melt is also an inspiration and role model to me as an activist and queer person and human being. Their new book The Plural, The Blurring – out November 20, via The Neutral Zone & Red Beard – exemplifies a lot of the things that make me love H. so much. There is the craft of their words, the memories, sometimes shared, that are weaved throughout the book, and the progressive, startlingly impactful documentation of their work writing to institutions for better treatment. Theirs is an intimate kind of activism, one they identify with the Chicago school of poetry writing, and one I have taken to heart as a queer revolutionary. Reading and being with H. Melt makes me feel excited, it makes me feel sad, it makes me feel the spectrum of emotions but knowing that H. Melt is out there, anywhere, just makes me feel safe.


THE INTERVIEW

The Plural, The Blurring largely focuses describing a very specific place and time. What’s the significance of having that setting at the center of the book?

The book is about Chicago’s queer arts scene between roughly 2012-2014 and how the art and activism going on in the city during that time coincided with my development as a trans writer. The book is largely about place and community, the ways in which they can influence an individual’s sense of self. For me, that period of time is when I am meeting and forming relationships with other queer and trans artists for the first time. I’m starting to take myself more seriously as a writer, as a trans person, and end up writing and publishing about the people, performances, and spaces that are most influencing and inspiring me. I’m also starting to grapple with queer loss and trans death, the ways in which loss can impact a community.

How have you been changed by the loss you’ve experienced and the gains you’ve seen achieved? Do you feel weaker and stronger at the same time?

I think that loss is inevitable. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s painful and unexpected. The queer community is not stable, I don’t think that any community is. There will always be people leaving and spaces closing down.  This can open up room for growth, for new spaces and new relationships to form but at what cost? What’s being lost? I think the people mirror the changes going on in the city and vice versa.

In your review of the trans & genderqueer poetry anthology Troubling the Line (included in The Plural, The Blurring), you write about your roots in the Chicago tradition of poetry and how that has affected your own work and what you tend to relate to as a reader. Have you found other queer poets who similarly embody that tradition?

I have never read a book of trans poetry by someone from Chicago. That’s part of the reason that I wrote the book. Many of the queer and trans writers that I’ve connected to most are not based in Chicago. While Chicago is a very literary and even poetry focused place, I don’t feel like there’s a queer poetry scene here. A queer arts scene definitely exists, and that’s very present in the book. But something about the literary scene hasn’t always facilitated a place for queer writers. My writing community and queer community are more separate than I would like.    

Where does the inspiration for the essays and letters to institutions you include come from? Are you still writing those?

Yes, I’m still writing essays. A lot of them came out of feeling powerless, especially the ones directed at specific institutions. I actually sent or performed most of the pieces in the book about specific places directly to people who work or spend time there. That’s part of my practice. In some cases, those writings actually sparked real change, new relationships, and projects. For example, there is now going to be a trans poetry category at the Lambda Literary Awards and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has improved their trans healthcare and now has a student-led group called the League of Extraordinary Genders. In other words, the essays and poems are part of a larger movement to create more access to resources for trans people. To help keep us alive.

“Part of your practice,” can you talk more about that?

The letters and essays felt more urgent–they were tools as part of my larger vision and hope to make more space for queer and trans writers and artists–by critiquing institutions that could be more welcoming to us, and reviewing exhibits, books, and plays that had some relationship to myself and the larger community. That’s really what I see my real work as–supporting other queer and trans writers and artists.   

The Plural, The Blurring is now available for pre-order.