Dorsey: Page vs. stageWritten by John Dorsey | | email@example.com
Recently, a war of words has been raging in many of our city’s hottest literary venues, leaving many local bards with one burning question: Are traditional poetry and spoken word two different mediums or can they meet somewhere in the middle to create a lasting legacy of creativity?
The entire page versus stage debate is nothing new; my guess is that Shakespeare was faced with the same question long before Saul Williams competed in his first slam. While I have always believed that if something isn’t fit for the page it has no place being performed, I’ll admit it can be something of a gray area at times.
For many people, the mere mention of poetry can be a real yawn. I can relate — I’ve nearly fallen asleep at a few readings myself. But I do think that the art form tends to get a bad rap overall.
There are plenty of examples of verse that are both sound pieces of writing and examples of quality entertainment, both locally and around the globe. One of our area’s newest shining examples, Bowling Green’s “urban nu-sense,” presents the outlet. The monthly spoken word series at the Cla-Zel Theatre showcases a wide array of talented feature performers, as well as an open mic. The event, which is being organized by Natural, who formerly co-hosted the Mano’s Back Porch as a member of the nu-mutants, also offers art exhibitions and a much-needed publishing opportunity for local authors in the form of a collective magazine known as “The Rant.” The next reading at the Cla-Zel is set for Nov. 10.
Other regional venues that offer both poetry and spoken word: Simply Poetry at Brooklyn’s Daily Grind, the Village Voice at the Ground Level Coffee House and the Collingwood Arts Center Tuesday Series. I’m sure there are a number of other great venues that slip my mind right now — they’ve been springing up all across the city lately.
Just what makes a piece of writing great entertainment and great literature, I hear you ask? My gut tells me it is a piece you can find enjoyable in any form. By contrast, there are plenty of songs I love listening to that happen to have lyrics that read like bad poetry — while they function as music, literary excellence they aren’t.
Why do I find this whole subject so important? Why does it continue to be such a hot topic?
Many authors tend to use the ability to separate the two forms as a crutch, so they don’t even try to master both forms — and what’s worse, many spoken word performers use this as an excuse not to be well-read, which gets especially under my skin. If you won’t read poetry, you have no business writing it — period.
I myself spent a number of years wandering around Toledo’s bar scene reading and selling books out of a bag in unlikely places like Manhattan’s and The Bronze Boar. In fact, I paid my rent that way with the support of local bands that would often let me read between sets, and I couldn’t have done it without being able to write and perform. Having read a few books really did come in handy when talking to buyers.
What do you think? I know it may seem like a tall order to ask poets to multitask, but it seems criminal not to try.
Here are just a few renowned poets that I would take over the latest bubblegum pop princess any day of the week.
- Taylor Mali, author, “What Learning Leaves”
- Ellyn Maybe, author, “Walking Barefoot in the Glassblowers Museum”
- Jeffrey McDaniel, author, “Splinter Factory”
- Nicole Blackman, author, “Blood Sugar”
- Vachel Lindsay, author, “The Congo and Other Poems”
- Jack Micheline, author, “River of Red Wine”
Until next time … keep your pencil sharp.
John Dorsey resides in Toledo’s Old West End. His work is widely published and has been nominated a number of times for the Pushcart Prize including in the most recent competition.