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.
“Look, y’all: they look like slow green explosions…”
Spoken word is “a thing that people can do,” in that anyone can write a poem, stand up in front of other people, and say it out loud. But it’s also something deeper than that– it’s a community, a movement, a culture in which certain practices, ideas, and impulses are shared.
So we can talk about an individual poem by itself, focusing on things like structure, word choice, and performance– but we can also talk about an individual poem in the context of that culture. We can talk about how it exists in dialogue with other poems. We can talk about how the poem “works” on a slam stage, vs. in a literary journal, vs. in a cypher with a bunch of friends, vs. at a political rally. People are free to disagree with me on this, but one thing I really appreciate about spoken word and slam poetry– as culture– is this acknowledgement that context matters, that who we are, where we are, and who is listening all impact what the poem “is.”
This poem is brilliant and beautiful in a vacuum, sure. Danez is one of the best writers in the world. But what really strikes me about this poem is how it plays with context. For example, all of the names listed are real people; I know some of them, and that impacts how I hear the poem. But here’s a deeper example: people outside of poetry circles may not be aware that the phrase “poems about trees” is very often shorthand for a kind of “traditional,” MFA-informed, white-centered, aggressively apolitical poetry that is often set up as a foil for the current spoken word movement. So Danez taking the *archetype* of that style of poetry, and flipping it so powerfully, serves to also demolish the very idea that there has to be some kind of binary approach to poems, that they can either be “about trees” or “about real shit.” The poem isn’t just substantive; it’s also subversive. This is what culture-shifting work looks like.
Poet Activist Spotlight: Jacqui Germain One of Button’s newest authors, Jacqui Germain, recently did a wonderful interview with Stevie Edwards from Ploughshares at Emerson College. Jacqui speaks about her own poetic influences and her work as a community organizer and activist. Don’t forget to check out Jacqui’s book, When the Ghosts Come Ashore, after you read this interview!
Verbalise If you are a young poet still trying to figure out your way into spoken word, then Verbalise is just for you! Starting next week in Birmingham, Verbalise is a four-week program offering classes and one-on-one mentoring that can give you the tools to launch your own career in spoken word poetry. It’s not too late to sign up!
“On Continuing the Work of Who Carried Us Here” by Hanif Abdurraqib Celebrating the release of his debut book The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, Button author Hanif Abdurraqib is back in this week’s Round-Up with another essay. Unlike the past two weeks, with his regular music features, Hanif is reflecting on the release of his book, and how to be thankful to and honor those who have made it possible to get where he is today. Writing more a love letter than an essay, Hanif is back with his usual brilliance.
“for lee buencamino” by Mae Verano To close out this week’s Round-Up, here is a short but sweet poem by Mae Verano. A member of the Brown 2016 CUPSI team, Mae Verano’s “for lee buencamino” is haunting in it’s brevity. “how lucky am i to speak your words / savor that same story / and still stand here / existing.” How lucky we all are to have this piece this weekend.
That’s all for this week, folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed your time here, and read something that will make some kind of impact, no matter how small, on your week moving forward. See you next Saturday!
Spencer Brownstein is a poet, student, and Button staffer living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves beanies, dogs, and a nice cigarette after dinner.