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Rebel Music

Poets are the sensitive scribes of our era. They document facts, mingling emotion, statistics with realities of third world countries to third floor abuse stories recalling mom’s late-night crack flings upstairs. Poetists have a discreet way of making their personal experiences universal, whispering words to a psychiatric role-playing audience. Ideally underground, poetic freestylers or free spirits don’t intend on conforming to the clichés of our times despite the cliché of what we see poets to be.

This down to earth hip-hop appeal is what draws us to their spoken declarations. Teens can relate to other teens. The peer-group mentality of hearing a poet break down their life’s worst and best chain reacts an “I feel you” vibe that suspends the poet-audience bond with the life of shit we go through. Even if you can’t relate, an open-mind will liberate a sheltered soul from ignorance, the poet’s greatest enemy.

But when the liberal mind of poetry plays into the politics of poetry slam ideology, some unclear questions are posed about the realness of slams. How can you equate scores with words? The judges are just people and people are permeable with error, so therefore the scores they give really are just numbers that happen to be in their head at the time they fill out score sheets. Often times the poet you enjoyed most will not make it to the next round. Like Anthony McKoy.

Anthony’s an Urban Word veteran whose poetry deals with quality of life issues such as politics and stuff that bothers an everyday teen. Now a youth mentor with the non-profit organization, he focuses teens to hone their writing skills in the free creative writing workshops Urban Word offers to NYC youth. A former Knicks Poetry Slam Winner, Anthony participated in this year’s Poetry Slam. He made it to the final round as he did last year, but in the end Anthony didn’t hear his name as one of the winners representing NYC at the national championships in San Francisco.

“That’s it with poetry,” he half-jokingly protested. “I’m joining the Army.” Not making it proved his poetic argument that so many youth have a voice and aren’t able to use it. Even if you do have a voice, you’re not being heard.

A quote from Anthony appears on the back of an Urban Word t-shirt: “Spoken word is our generation’s rebel music.” Poetic-performance has been made popular by Russell Simmons’ televised Def Jam Poetry Series and tons of documentaries and books, including The Idiot’s Guide to Slam Poetry.

Type in “slam poetry” on and you will find 21,451 results. But while spoken word provides an opportunity for youth to speak up about issues that concern them, the consequences of the slam’s competitiveness should not be overlooked. Even if the point really isn’t about the points, the truth is that points will be attached to the poems. And that could be a way of silencing future poets who aren’t competitive in nature.


Nicoletta Bumbac

Nicoletta Bumbac is an Egyptologist living in Queens.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2005

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