Last week I wrote a post about the sensitivity of performing confessional poetry given that it might violate the privacy of those people mentioned in the poems. Today I want to discuss how listeners tend to react to confessional performance poets, both audience members immediately following the performance as well as members of the press and academics. I was reading a transcript of a fascinating discussion between British performance poets Jean Binta Breeze, Patience Agbabi, Jillian Tipene, Ruth Harrison, and Vicki Bertram, and one of Breeze’s comments resonated with me. Asked by Harrison, “How important is it to have a literary critique of your work?” Breeze replied, “Well, I find that people don’t often critique the work. Everybody wants interviews with you about your personal life! And, you know, I get a lot of press, and they all ask the same questions, usually. And it’s about my personal life, and how I write, and my children. But nobody ever takes the work and says, ‘I’m going to critique the work’, or come to a performance, and critique the performance, like how you critique a play” (31). Continue reading
Last week, I wrote a post on confessional poetry and being conscious of others whose privacy is disrupted in the sharing of personal material. In it I discussed how being a confessional poet requires one to be comfortable with sharing the details in his/her poems with a room of strangers. Luckily, poetry events are generally safe spaces, with the audience entering an implicit contract to respect the performer’s work. When I began performing slam in Edinburgh two years ago as a newly arrived American student, I was grateful for the anonymity of the people in the audience: I could try out my poems in a foreign setting and not worry about people recognizing me or connecting my work with my private existence. Or so I thought. The poems were recorded and posted online (with my consent, I should add, which is important). But then poems that I had written for a foreign audience were accessible to those who knew me well. My family found them online, which was unexpected and a bit jarring; while there wasn’t anything in the poems that I was desperate to keep from them, it was still bizarre having them know intimate details of my romantic relationships. Continue reading
Something on my mind lately has been the politics of confessional poetry: how does one honestly perform personal poems while also being mindful of their effect on the people whose privacy is interrupted by these poems?
Slam poetry has always been a genre which encourages poets to share intimate details of their lives. Susan B. A. Somers-Willett notes that this confessional style is an increasing hallmark of slam: “a great deal of the work appearing in recent slam and spoken word anthologies and films confirms the trend of proclaiming one’s identity for an audience” (Somers-Willett 52). Slam audiences generally expect personal material to be shared by the performers, so being a confessional poet is almost a necessity for the contemporary slammer (unless their style is more political, activist poetry, also a hallmark of slam). Continue reading
Performing intensely personal pieces, be they poems, dances, songs, theatre, etc., can take a toll on the body and psyche. To share that much emotional energy with an audience can be exhausting. But aside from the personal toll (which does come with rewards as well, lest we forget that there’s a reason why we do this), there’s also the question of when you simply cannot bring the energy to perform a certain piece anymore because you cannot do it justice any longer. How do we recognize when a piece’s time is past, either because the subject matter is not relevant to us anymore or because the words have been eroded into sounds, devoid of meaning due to repetition? Continue reading