In-Depth Look: Sam Sax – “Written to be Yelled at Trump Tower…”
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.
“Every poem I have ever written is trying to get closer to the people I have lost.”
The other day, poets Clint Smith and Eve Ewing engaged in a couple of great Twitterthreads about the politics of being labeled a “spoken word poet” or a “poet.” This is an age when more and more artists from the slam scene are finding success in the realms of publishing and academia, but the distinction has always been muddy. So many of spoken word culture’s brightest stars– Patricia Smith, Saul Williams, Bao Phi, and beyond– are also award-winning page poets; the next generation is already continuing that trend.
Sam Sax embodies this as well as anyone. As a poet, he’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Lambda Literary, & The MacDowell Colony. His new book, Madness, is the winner of The National Poetry Series selected by Terrance Hayes; his upcoming second book, Bury It, is the Winner of the 2017 James Laughlin Award from The Academy of American Poems.
But Sax is also a striking performer. This poem, exploring intersections of capitalism, artistic expression, exploitation, and loss, is already so tightly constructed and consistent in terms of its imagery and thesis; the performance, though, particularly through Sax’s intentionality around tempo and rising/falling tension, adds further layers. While the stereotype that spoken word is about using performance to make up for flat writing will likely persist, Sax shows that at its best, spoken word and slam poetry are about artists using performance to give their already-powerful writing added texture, depth, and meaning.