Tell me if I’m wrong

23 Apr

I’ve been working on a theory, it’s  in it’s inital stages of thought.  The theory is that really great creative movements, or individual works, are great because they explore, or come from tension.  In writing this is certainly true in fiction (tell me if I’m wrong fiction writers) and I think it can be applied in other area as well.  In my poem The Book of Antonyms, I tried to explore this be creating a poem about opposites, throwing some received wisdom about opposites out, and made sure that there were two opposites in every stanza.  My idea was that the opposites as subject and within the poem would create a poem of tension.

If we look at creativity, we can see there have always been movements which have rocked the establishment, which have out-and-out decided that they are not going to do things the “acceptable” way.  These movements have always shocked and inspired people, they have caught people up, and sometimes left them in their wake.  Why are these movement so powerful?  because they create tension within the creative world they inhabit.  Some times they create tension within the larger world, and that is when something special starts.  This tension is needed in all walks of life.  Take politics, which I’m not entirely convinced isn’t an art form in itself.  Imagine there being no Conservative party…  That was nice, wasn’t it?  But politics suddenly gets much less interesting too, and voter apathy sets in.  This is why you need tension, tension brings life and vitality, it creates an energy of its own.

This is one of the reasons why I was so saddened to see, and hear about, the recent in-fighting in the Edinburgh poetry scene.  Harry Giles has done a reasoned analysis of why this has happened, but if you want to read for yourself go here, here and here.  Now just to make sure that people completely understand me I have no problem with people having their say or defending themselves.  If you’re a writer and you can’t explain or defend your chosen style (not others style, your own), then my advice is to learn to do so.  You need to know not only what you are doing, but why.

What Russell did, whether you agree with him or not, was identify a tension and express it, he tried to do so with humour.  It’s public expression then created a tension in the Edinburgh poetry scene.  That tension could have been used positively and responded to in a creative manner, but it wasn’t.  If the response had been a creative one, then it could have ended up making everyone involved stronger, and strengthen the poetry scene in Edinburgh as well.  At the moment all it has done is put me right off poets.

So my challenge is for those who feel strongly about this tension is to respond positively, in a creative way.  Yes challenge, yes argue your point of view, but do so in what you do best, verse.  I’ll publish it here if you do.

12 Responses to “Tell me if I’m wrong”

  1. julietwilson April 23, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

    This is all part of the reason why I don’t perform more and why I’m not more ‘on the poetry scene’ im Edinburgh and in fact why I’m looking now to write stuff that isn’t poetry. I just think that all that energy expended on arguing could be so much better spent more creatively and personally that type of atmosphere drives me away.

    Good post and thanks for the links

    Crafty green poet

  2. alumpinthethroat April 23, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    I find that sad Juliet, I’ve heard you read a couple of times, and have enjoyed it.

    Yes, I must say it has all rather left a bad taste in my mouth, and has me questioning how involved I want to be in these kind of events in the future. I do believe that debate and discussion is needed, and a vital part of any creative movement. I have no wish to see that stifled, and I think there have been some really interesting discussions that have come out of the slam. Andy Philip had some very interesting comments on his blog on it.

    But it did appear to quite quickly decend into something more base. As I have said quite often in recent weeks, you have to work out who’s opinion matters to you, and when you do you will find it a suprisingly small number of people. For those who aren’t the one’s who matter to you – I just woundn’t put that amount of emotional energy into making them so important.

  3. Mary April 25, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    I am having trouble understanding the tempest, maybe just because 2 of the links are no longer available, maybe because I am rather thick-skinned as writers go. A slam is by definition not a sedate or polite event; anyone stepping on-stage to participate is going to have to be prepared to take a pummelling, as does anyone who writes in a non-anonymous way in the blogosphere. What does everyone else think about it?

    • alumpinthethroat April 25, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

      Sorry you can’t get the links Mary, they’re working fine for me. Perhapse it’s because a couple of them are to FaceBook, and they are people I have already “friended” so I can see them?

      Anyway to cut a long story short. Russell, read a poem at a slam that was critical of some slaming styles. Perhapse a little niave, but it was funny and I genuinely thought it contained some valid criticisim.

      Some people took it very personally, and they could have perhapse responded with a similar poem, critical of Russell’s original. But instead they laid into him online, after the evening where they could have actully challenged him face-to-face. One of them going as far as to link on his blog to a virus (or so he says – whether that’s true or not I don’t know, I’m not going to click on it to find out).

      Anyway all pretty immature, and all stuff that basically gives poetry and poets a bad name,brings us all into disripute, and makes a lot of people slink away, quietly from the poetry scene because they can’t be bothered dealing with that sort of crap.

  4. julietwilson April 26, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    Thanks mairi! I’m not saying I’ll never read poetry in public again (in fact I’m reading on 11 June at Wordpower and will probably be persuaded to show my face during the festival). And I’ll never stop writing poetry as I’ll always love poetry. But i do find all the silly arguments and sometimes the general atmosphere of certain sections of the Edinburgh poetry scene pretty off-putting… And it shouldn’t be like that, the audience for poetry is small enough as it is without petty infighting…

    Crafty Green Poet

  5. Claire April 27, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Respectfully, Mairi, I’m not sure I agree. I agree completely with what Harry said in his blog:

    “the argument hasn’t been particularly acrimonious overall: we’ve explored a huge amount of territory to do with poetry and performance, mostly respectfully, and what frustration there has been has mostly been with a bit of a smile.”

    I think the tension you describe was, overall, used positively. I was really pleased to have provoked so much healthy discussion, and have had lots of other folk say the same — that they were really pleased to see the issue discussed. Yes, one or two individuals got a bit personal, but I think they felt that they’d been personally singled out for criticism in the first place. Personalities will clash, and I don’t think any great damage has been done. Accusing those involved of being “unproductive” and “base” is, I think, rather unfair and not actually desperately accurate.


    • alumpinthethroat April 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

      Don’t be sorry for having a different opinion Claire! It’s perfectly ok, and fine for you to express it, and thank you for doing so.

      I think you may have misunderstood a little of what I said, and I would like to clear that up, rather than having a misunderstanding hanging between us. You will see in my comments above, that I have said that there have been useful discussions that have come from the slam, I particularly pointed out Andy Philips blog is a good place to go and read them. So I was in no way saying that there weren’t. I also have said in the comments that I think this sort of discussion is a vital part of any creative movement. I think this shows again, that I am not trying to say that these things shouldn’t or haven’t been discussed in a positive way.

      I also at no point have called any individual or group of people “base”, I do not personally attack people on my blog. I also at no point have called any individual or group of people “unproductive”, again I don’t personally attack people on my blog. I also have not described the discussions around the slam as “unproductive” either. In fact, if you look at the comments I took the trouble to say they were “really interesting”. I’ve just done a quick word search on my blog and also read it over several times and at no time have I ever used the word “unproductive” to describe anything. I did say that things “became base” and I’m afraid that is simply what I believe. I don’t know how else I would describe someone leaving a virus on someone else’s blog? However, I think the wording in that comment could reflect this better, and if I am able to I will change it so my position on that matter is clear.

      You say some people took things personally because as they perceived it, they felt they were being singled out. The thing is they weren’t though, were they? When an individual identifies a perceived slight it is entirely that person’s choice how they chose to respond, and that person’s choice as to the amount of proportionality that they use. However I don’t have a choice in how that makes me feel.

      I’m sorry if you feel that I was in anyway doing down the work that you put into the slam, because I’m not, and have actually being thinking what a great job you did and still continue to do in the Edinburgh poetry scene. I hope that you can also see that I have not being saying, or implying some of the things that you mentioned above. If in anyway your feelings have been hurt, that was never my wish or intention, and for that I am sorry.

      You do say that you don’t think any great damage has been done, and yes, no great damage. But on the night I went away with a nice warm fuzzy feeling, thinking that perhaps the divide between the two schools of poetry could be bridged, and even thinking I would be willing to take part in future slams and go to more performance poetry gigs than I currently do. However that feeling has changed now and I do question if I want to get involved in a slam again, or tentatively step back into the performance poetry scene. To be particularly fair Slamming was never something I was massively into in the first place.

      I don’t know if you’ve read Juliette’s comment above? There we have a writer, who has been writing for years, and also working to promote other writers through her blog who is saying that she has been put off the Edinburgh poetry scene by the in-fighting. Now I can’t speak for Juliette, and I don’t know what exactly her experience is, but I think that’s something that should give us all pause for thought.

      • Claire April 27, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

        Sorry, you didn’t say “unproductive”, my mistake — but the sentence that caused my brow to furrow a little was this one: “That tension could have been used positively and responded to in a creative manner, but it wasn’t.”
        That was the sentence I really disagreed with — as per my comment above.

        As for folk feeling singled out — whether it was intended or not, people were offended, found elements of the poem/delivery/subsequent blogpost personal. I have to say that at the time, I thought the poem was tongue-in-cheek and thought nothing more of it — I was really surprised by the furore it kicked up. But if people have been upset by something, I think they have a right to own those feelings, and to express them. Admittedly, spamming someone’s blog with a virus is doing neither of those things — but it wasn’t just that particular individual who took the content of the poem personally.

        I understand that you want to leap to Russell’s defense, because he’s your friend. I also feel a little bad about the amount of stick he’s got — although he assures me that it hasn’t bothered him in the slightest, and that he has a very thick skin about such things. However, I think that the tone of some parts of this blogpost risks alienating the vast swathe of people (pretty much all of Edinburgh’s self-identifying performance crowd spoke out negatively about Russell’s poem), all of whom just want to have a civilised debate about what I think is a very relevant issue.

        I’m worried that you think we not have “a misunderstanding hanging between us”, and that you felt the need to write such an epic comment in response! You asked for people to challenge you if they didn’t agree — I don’t agree. No big deal, though — horses for courses. And certainly no hard feelings!

      • alumpinthethroat April 27, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

        Great – I’m glad it’s not a biggie.  Sometimes with online stuff it can be difficult to tell tone etc, and I just wanted to be sure I was getting stuff right.

        I work in politics, and I often spend a vast amount of my time listening to debates, committee’s, analysing policy, press reports and at the moment manifesto’s!  Becuase of this I often get sick of debates, and I just think that with such a massivly creative group of people, the issue could be addressed in a more creative way, one which perhapse opened up a usefull dialouge between the two schools (it did appear that the dialouge was only amoung the “performance” crowd, and I think that risks alienting the “page” group. I know I felt alienated by some comments).  Which is why I suggested people reply with their own poem – hopefully and amusing one.  Another idea would be to start a project (this idea is very wolly) that paired up performance and page poets to work together, hopefully all learning something from each other.  But as I think I made clear, I am not saying people shouldn’t defend themselves or speak out when they disagree – afterall I wouldn’t have invited people to do so in my title if I thought that!

        Good to chat.


  6. Jenny Lindsay May 31, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    Hey guys – only just come across this, and I know it was aaages ago, so sorry to chuck my tuppence in at this late stage 🙂

    I confronted Russell as he singled out rapper poets. There are only two on the entire performance poetry scene in Edinburgh, one of whom was performing on the night. I thought this incredibly rude, particularly as Russell had never actually taken part in a slam before and was basing his poem on anecdotal evidence and cliches about ‘ranty performers’. (Though the said performer stuck up for himself without any need of help from me! )

    The equivalent of Russell’s poem from a performance poet (which I have NEVER once seen by the way, in almost a decade of performing) would be a performance poet getting up at a poetry reading at the Poetry Library and laying into people who write for the page, describing them as ‘boooooring and ssseeeerious’, and ‘writing about clouds and flooowers in a stupid pooooetttry voice’….)Cliches. Stereotypes. Exactly the opposite of ‘reasoned discussion.’ Such a performance poet would quite rightly be denounced by page poets as wrong and arrogant. This is exactly the response garnered from those Russell was speaking about, and I think he’s taken that on the chin in hindsight 🙂

    Intentionally or not, it was insulting, and I felt protective of those acts that I have booked in the past, and while at times faintly amusing, it was the type of humour that is akin to high-school bullying. Obviously I engaged with Russell, and cannot speak for the others who responded to him, but he did seem to recognise that his poem was quite insulting after the fact…

    As you know, I tried hard to book a range of poetry on the nights I ran; taking over Big Word in 2004 I tried to ensure a mix of more ‘page’ (for want of a better word) acts, and performance poetry – all of which was defined really by being ‘good live’ regardless of style or genre. Variety is key to any live poetry event, which is where Claire deserves real credit as a promoter, and which Russell I am afraid was very rude about on his blog even before the event took place. To be fair, I don’t think he expected the response he got – he was certainly very apologetic for any offence and I believe he was genuine with that. It is sometimes really difficult to gauge how a poem will go down, and I am sure that poem will work well with people who view performance poets in a certain way. But those of us who are immersed in the performance poetry scene, having more experience, know that it is entirely not that way at all – hence the reaction.

    I never quite understood why anyone thought live poetry competitions would not be….er…competitive though (as distinct from all the other adjectives that get thrown at performance poetry – ‘masculine’ ‘fesity’ ‘aggressive’ – again, not my experience… 🙂 The trick is not to take em too seriously. Though I wasn’t taking part, as you know, most people would plan what poems to do before the event, so a ‘response’ to Russell wouldn’t have been possible in that sense – hence the internet ‘feuding’ 🙂

    The main thing though, is that performance poetry is not about slams: they are a regular part of it; the part that gets discussed most (wonder why, eh?), but not the main part. The main part is writing for an audience. A diverse audience. An audience of poetry lovers and poetry haters, people not necessarily well versed in the poetry of the past, nor set in a certain ‘style’ or genre. Hence, the reaction to Russell. It came across as a ‘page poetry’ in-joke about how rubbish performance poets are – alienating nigh all of the performance poets in the audience and who were taking part!

    Thats not my experience of performance poetry. It is one of the most diverse ways of writing and expressing yerself (at the same time as engaging an audience) I have ever come across, and it is not easily categorised. I felt a jolt every time a line got a laugh, as I am sure any page poet would if they were listening to their art being ripped apart as ‘shallow’ and pointless. But….the thing about poets? We’re thick-skinned buggers eh? 🙂 I dont think Russell or anyone else is all that grudge-holding about it. It’s all poetreeeee……

    • alumpinthethroat June 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

      Thanks for your comments Jenny. Claire, Harry and I are currently working on an exciting project to try to bridge the page/performance deivde, as I know you have also tried to. We’ll probably be in touch with you about it in the near future. It would be great if you could take part, and I’m sure that everyone who does will really get something out of it. We’ll be in touch soon.

  7. Jenny Lindsay May 31, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    God – it’s emoticon hell up there…I was at pains to come across as ‘friendly’…and not ‘bolshy like a performance poet’…! He he he…bloody internet….

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