Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry Slam, Patsy Grace, Sidewalk, January 20, 2010

I came in on the tail end of a Poetry Slam at Sidewalk last night. It was the first time I'd been to one, and while I was glad to see it so heavily attended, I realized that I really don't like my poetry slammed. I much prefer it recited or even read. One feature of the slam I found peculiar is that each poem was given a score by a panel of judges after it was performed. I'm not really sure what the point is of making poetry the basis of a competitive event. What sense does it make to compare works of art and say that one is better? Poems, songs, paintings, plays, movies, ballets, are each unique items created out of the singular motives and inspiration of an artist or artists. There isn't even any logical or objective scale on which to compare different works of art. It's not like a track meet where you can compare times or distances jumped. But beyond that, why do people want to evaluate art works like this. They should be judged and enjoyed individually on their own merits, on the way they make us feel, on how they shed light on the world or the condition of humanity. While I guess there is a certain entertainment value in watching the Academy Awards, for example, I still find the whole premise of it absurd. I think it has something to do with the nature of our country's culture, which seems to like to make us all feel like we have to be "winners."

I heard from folks that had been there the whole evening that there was some good poetry heard, and I think it's nice that something like this gets a bunch of folks involved in literature, but for the moment I'll stick to reading my poetry in books (more likely on those signs in the subway cars, actually).

And by the way, after hearing the poetry slammers, I have an enhanced appreciation of Jon Berger's unique style of poetry delivery which doesn't rely on many of the beat-style cliches that seemed in evidence during the slam.

I caught the end of the slam because I came to hear Patsy Grace. Some of you probably know that Patsy was a Sidewalk regular years ago, before my time, maybe in the early 2000s or something-not entirely sure about that. After leaving New York I know Patsy lived in New Orleans and that may very well be where she resides today. Patsy casts a warm, laid back, earthy vibe in her performances and is a compelling performer. Some of her songs are particularly catchy, and they have interesting structures and some surprising musical ideas, but I feel that much of the spell she casts comes from the mood the songs create all together (check her out on MySpace if you want to know what I mean).

Patsy had a really good violin player with her a guy who she said was from New Orleans. While my first thought was that this dude was way too slim and handsome for his own good--he did have a nice feel for the material and added some very tasteful accompaniment and solos. I'm sorry I didn't catch his name--every time Patsy pronounced it I thought she was saying John-O. And it's quite lame of me that I didn't verify that or find out his last name which I think was either Freedberg or Fishburg.

Patsy had a cold last night and kept implying that her singing voice wasn't in form, although I think she sounded just fine. I wish I'd been around during the years when Patsy was active on the scene--or had some sort of time machine to check in on those days. Somehow I'll bet that in the context of that era-bolstered, prodded, and nurtured by the other heavy-duty talents of the day she must have made quite an impression.

I seem to be making it out to fewer shows these days, as I mentioned in another post. Although I want this blog to continue to tie into the world of Sidewalk Cafe, I realized that at times when I don't have too much to directly report about performances from the scene that I could use this space for general thoughts and rants. So don't be surprised if sometime soon I do a little more aimless rambling about things. I hope it'll be fun for everyone, but who knows? See you then.

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