« on: November 18, 2007, 01:06:03 AM »
My tour bio says "he'd much rather you thought of him as a stand-up comic who just happens to deliver his jokes in cut glass rhyme schemes. Poetry can be fun, it can be accessible, it can even be a pretty good way to spend a Saturday night."
I'm a straight, white, married, healthy, Christian, college-educated male with a steady job and a passable singing voice. For me to get up on a stage and rail about the unyielding cruelty of the world would be disgraceful, in the truest sense of that word. So I tell jokes. I have maybe 10 poems that aren't jokes, and while I'll toss those out on occasion to keep the crowd guessing, the truth is that I enjoy being the comic relief at a poetry slam.
The funny poets are a wonderful on-ramp in terms of introducing "regular people" (take the term however you wish) to spoken word poetry. Even people who snored through AP English will probably have a good time watching Mike McGee perform. Hey, I make no apologies for being an expansive poet.
Also, when I lay down a particularly poignant or "deep" line, it can just vanish into the dim lights of the lounge. Maybe somebody will snap approvingly or compliment me after the show, or maybe not. Silence can indicate failure or unheralded success. But when I finish the limerick about the Headless Horseman in a brothel and the whole crowd reaches for napkins to wipe up the beer they just squirted out of their noses, well, I know I got the reaction I intended.
A good poetry reading should cover a broad spectrum of human experience and emotion. I wouldn't want to frequent a "political" poetry slam any more than I would want to own a DVD player that only plays action movies.
It's also important to note that the boundaries here are permeable. A funny poem without craft or thought behind it is the verbal equivalent of spun sugar. Plenty of poets who take on the Big Issues do so with at least a little humor mixed in. Sugar does help the medicine go down and all that. Taylor Mali, Ryk McIntyre, Jack McCarthy, Sou MacMillan, and Regie Gibson are some examples of poets who use humor in the service of the subject, even when that subject is very serious.
Some of my favorite writers are Abraham Lincoln, Bill Cosby, William Shakespeare, Mohandas Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Hilaire Belloc, Woody Allen, and Ben Franklin. (Yeah, I notice with some disappointment that my list is mostly rich white guys.) Still, those are heavyweight writers and orators who spent their entire lives wrestling with Big Issues. And every one of them was riotously funny.
We all know poets who operate under the belief that their talent and artistry are exclusively a function of the pain and sorrow of their past or present circumstances. Some of these poets are astonishingly good. Some are astonishingly bad. Some are in-between. Most of them are humorless and all of them are wrong. If the world really worked like that, if misery really were the sine qua non of poetry, then I submit to you that not one team from the USA would make it to finals at NPS. Team Sudan and Team North Korea would kick all our butts.
Humor, for me, is a very serious matter and I wish there were more Mike McGees in the slam world.