One show in Montreal, a guy actually wanted to fight me over a poem I had performed! It was a challenging piece. I have performed it only a few times, but each time it was at a place where I figured not everybody would be receptive! Why? I have heard a great many poems where Black poets have challenged Black people over their shortcomings. I have not heard too many where White people have challenged each other similarly, at least in the specific area of race.
That was certainly the case at the Montreal show, as well at local Ottawa slam where, a few days after the show, randomly on the street, one or two clowns wanted to argue and debate with me over the piece. (and, yes, I stand behind my poems, but I do retain the right not to be forced to explain or debate them!). I suspect that poem is one of the reasons I was effectively blacklisted from this slam in question, despite the fact that Golden Star Lounge was their de facto foundation, built their Ottawa audience, and provided the stage starts for many in their clique of poet celebrities. (Really, in 20 years, I have been invited to perform as a feature in spots all over Ottawa, and in Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, Kingston, Trinidad & Tobago, New York, etc., but never once there?!).
Anyway, back to the main plot: when I introduced the poem at said slam, I said that I would be criticizing ‘my people.’ In other words, as ‘half white,’ I wanted to speak to my people about some of our issues. That struck me as funny as it probably sounds, and I recall that I performed the piece in a friendly, humorous kind of way. But, aside from the tongue-in-cheek, there was a serious point. And in a bigger way, there is a point regarding the need to be courageous, even ferocious, with this spoken word stuff, to not pander to an audience but challenge them. In the process, both performer and audience can grow, even if, like a teen’s growth spurt, somewhat painfully.
And, no, I don’t really accept the argument about fostering development in a controlled and encouraging environment, cuz I have seen plenty of these slap-each-other’s-back slam poets pedal the same lazy ish over and over in their little snap-happy cocoons, egged on by enablers who really aren’t doing them any favours. And, conversely, I have heard youth poets come true with words unembellished by melodrama (recall, I did not say I have never heard a White poet challenge a White audience regarding racism – a youth poet very effectively did just that one night at a small event I attended in Ottawa, a show more genuine and of higher artistic quality than more celebrated slam events).
For the record, here’s a small mention a guy made online about that Montreal show (it was at Festival Voix D’Ameriques)
And one of these days, I may just put that poem up online and get ready to defend against any punks who jump up to get beat down!