I went to a poetry slam on Sunday night and I placed second, out of not many. I lost to a young woman who used the F-word in all forms of speech – adjective, adverb, verb, noun – but she was very loud and engaged and angry. My poetry started with the line “I don’t do anger much anymore.”
Open mic and poetry slams are cultural voyeurism for me. I want to learn about current state in literary arts, and I am thirty years older than the next oldest contestant in the slams. I am troubled by the victimhood-as-badge-of-honor stance I hear too often; it reminds me, frankly, of some of the excesses of current politics, on both sides.
The poem in the slam might start out “I was — by — and now I’m —.” The trope of the poetry is Sylvia Plath battling Anne Sexton, and it seems like the biggest loser is the biggest winner. When I entered a slam event, I wanted my poem to say “It might seem bleak now, but really, add forty years and it won’t matter.” The 24-year-old who is ranting about lost love feels no solace that “in 40 years you will have trouble remembering his/her name.”
I also talked about resilience, and overcoming – because isn’t that so much of life? It’s Plan B or you never had a Plan B so you have to figure out other options on the fly? When I think of friends I know from forty years ago, some got stuck in a belief: “but he was supposed to take care of me” or “but I trained in this field and it’s all changed” or “I wasn’t supposed to get sick” or…
Other friends followed the detour signs and ended up some place else but learned to reframe the pictures they had packed. They are the happy ones. I’m happy, most times, so my happy rant at the slam at least finished second.
An age corrective is maybe the second reason I participate in a slam. I’ve listened to young poets suppose what life is like (miserable) at my advanced age, and I feel like I need to say, no, no you’ve got it backwards – it gets better, if you choose. Not that we shouldn’t rail against what is wrong – but that needs to be a larger vision, not merely personalized. I may rant again, if I can muster up a rant about green tomatoes on the vine or rain that takes down October leaves. Like I said, I just don’t do anger much anymore.