Appreciating poetry is often about patience: sitting with a poem, meditating on it, and re-reading it multiple times. With spoken word, we don’t always get a chance to do that. This series is about taking that chance, and diving a little deeper into some of the new poems going up on Button.
I’ve decided that I will not speak unless I can say the complete truth. This has made it so much harder to talk about the things that are really important to me.
The most common critique of slam poetry is that it’s predictable, or “tropey,” to use an increasingly useful pop culture term. We talk about the same subject matter, using the same structural and poetic elements, through the same delivery style. On one hand, I think this critique misses the mark, especially when it comes from outside the culture (see points #4 and #5 here for a few more thoughts on that), but on the other hand, it isn’t particularly difficult to see why that critique exists– we could, as a community, challenge ourselves to explore new angles on issues, push our writing into more interesting places, and strive to create work that doesn’t sound like everyone else’s.
That larger context makes this poem particularly interesting. While the “gimmick” (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) of the poem is obvious, there’s a deeper impulse at play in how the poem uses negative space. That silence isn’t just for drama’s sake; it’s embedded in the writing in a way that directly counters that charge of predictability. The “father” section, for example, could be read in multiple, conflicting ways, which captures something profound about the nature of both that specific relationship, and the larger idea of the truth as something that is messy, sometimes contradictory, and difficult to grasp. Poets are sometimes expected to be able to “illuminate the truth” in just three minutes; this poem functions as a critique of that, while simultaneously being an example of what that work might actually look like.
If you like Singer’s work, there’s much more available online.