Slam Poetry and Saltlines

One of the beauties of symposia and conferences is how it creates an immediate sense of community, of kapwa, in the sense of a shared experience and the sense of identification with the other participants. We all care deeply about women of color, care for each other, and care for our own experiences. We all moved to both support each other's work but to also express our experiences as succinctly and creatively as possible.

The four workshops gave participants a chance to learn and practice new skills. I wish I'd been able to see everyone's workshop! Mako Fitts of Seattle University provided a workshop on Organizing and Activism. Iolanda Palmer of the WSU Fine Arts department provided a workshop on Feminist Art. Hisami Yoshida of the Washington State Department of Corrections provided a workshop on Advocacy and Social Change. I had a few students in each of my workshops which gave me a chance to interact more closely with each participant and learned as much as I hope I gave.

Friday night of the symposium featured a poetry slam by WSU's GLBTA, mc'd by Alex Stefanova, founder of Q-Poetry. The slam was high energy and diverse, exactly what I'd hoped for a first slam poetry experience. The memorization amazed me. Long stanzas, repeated refrains, and emotive storytelling all wrapped up into incredible performances. The slam wound late into the night and I left before I got a chance to see Andrea Gibson's solo performance. Thankfully she and the others from Saltlines returned the next day and gave a performance and poetry workshop. From the exercise, I wrote this:

the old man and the young girl dressed in cloth beaten
from palm fronds strung White Privilege up on a clothesline
to hang damp and writing in the East wind

wind whipped across the plantation, brushed against
his uniform, lifting him hapless and helpless while
the people gathered to celebrate

celebrate the end of he with the cigarette whip,
he who paced on lion's paws, teeth gleaming
in moonlight, he who thundered like a thousand
brass gongs, holding one hand out to give
the measure of their oppression
holding one hand back tight as a fist, sharp bolo
knife to divide father from son from kinsman

he did not think he would be strung up so
tendrilled by telecom lines, game show lights,
and the relentless advertisements for things
untenable when work is measured
in centavos, or dollars paid beneath the table

he roars and gongs and flaps in the wind
but these are whispers, a distant drone
beneath the oralist's chant, the call
to remember that gathers the people into
a healing embrace

Flexing my on-the-spot writing muscles caused no small amount of brain-sprain, but it was good to workout again. I tried to remember my workshop exercises and the Slinky that helps me remember how connected all things are in our experiences.

Alex was the host of Saltline's workshop and filled in while the group was getting themselves coordinated. She introduced me to poet Staceyann Chin, a Jamaica immigrant whose use of haiku drills deeply into her heritage and complex family history.

Poetry eludes me still. It resonates with my sense of lyric memoir, but the discipline slips through my fingertips too easily. Slam poetry is incredibly powerful and political, slicing through social conventions to the heart of complex issues. I could not help but be inspired by Saltline's risk-taking and Alex's drive to express her art.


Okir said...

I love This American Life, both the radio and video versions. RadioLab is great too - sort of a science story-telling counterpart to This American Life.

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

Thanks for the heads up to RadioLab. I'll have to check it out.