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In Defense of the Poetry Slam: Understanding Bend's fascination with iambic pentameter 

Noted literary critic Harold Bloom calls spoken word poetry, "the death of art" but I prefer comparing the monthly Bend Poetry Slam with an Andy Warhol quote: "Art is what you can get away with."

The academic community has criticized poetry slams since their inception in the mid-80s because they challenge what is literary merit, though the same devices of repetition, alliteration and rhyme, beloved by classic poets, are shunned by critics when used in a slam setting.

Poetry began as a way for ancient societies to record history. Over time, iambic pentameter became the most common meter in the English language. Think Shakespeare's sonnets. Think of this line, "to swell the ground and plump the hazel shells" by Keats. Then how about, "complacency is not the common place to cultivate the seeds of resurrection" mirroring this poetic construction, from a poem by Jason Graham, who performs and regularly places in the top three at the slam as Mosley Wotta?


But what causes attendance at the Bend Poetry Slam to be ten times that of any other literary event in town? As T-Poe, a slam favorite, puts it, "I am drawn up from Southern Oregon, as if siphoned over the mountains and deposited onto a barstool at the Silver Moon Brewery on the second Wednesday of every month. Listening to poets express their works is inspiring."

At the December slam, T-Poe plans to recite a new poem, "Silence in Between" which begins with this powerfully brief treatise on writing: There is silence in a sentence/and it gives the words their meaning/for a group of words are nonsense/without the silence in between.

Maybe part of the slam's draw is the implicit promise to be entertained in a delectably raucous atmosphere with c.vance, local writer and small press publisher of Throwback Books, as the host and ringleader. c.vance begins each slam by explaining the rules: the poem must be three minutes or under, use of props is forbidden, points will be deducted for performing the same piece more than once in a calendar year. He then becomes the "sacrificial poet" so five randomly picked judges will understand how to rate the proceeding poets.

I have always thought hearing c.vance recite lines like, "There's a pocket of air in/the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris/still sitting stagnant/since its construction/673 years ago/and/they say/it would take/something disastrous/to dislodge it/it's one more reason/to root for unavoidable/disasters," from his poem "still here" makes the slam worth the $3 cover alone.

The cover charge is split between the top three poets of the evening after three rounds of scoring. Jay Turley, a regular slam performer, calls it, "An opportunity for spoken word performers to have a stage in which they can live through their art." When asked to quote a favorite line from his own poems, Jay chose, "Perfection is a never ending quest of never giving up but never getting what you want."

That's how I see the poets as they battle onstage. Some do succumb to disingenuous posing, like never-ending variations of the balls-out Rocker Chick and the requisite attempt to emulate the inflections of Slick Rick and Mos Def. But this is part of what makes a slam fun. And the night is always sprinkled with gems, like regular top scorers Cassie Moore and Timmy "Shakes," whose work never fails to illicit cheers from the crowd.

The Bend Poetry Slam is one of those rare events that keeps its audience surprised, thrilled and, most crucially, coming back. Jason Graham sums up the overwhelming success of the event by saying the Bend Poetry Slam, "boils us down to the core and all that remains: our sincerity, our strength...our freed and broken but breathing self."

Next Bend Poetry Slam

8pm. Wednesday, December 10. Silver Moon Brewing Co. 24 NW Greenwood Ave. $3.

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