by Mariah Parker, guest writer
Slam poetry is, by definition, a raw art; if it doesn’t shake you then it probably ain’t working. Some community members seem to have felt that force at the recent Peal Poetry Slam, where one poet chose to disrobe as a part of his performance. While I apologize to these individuals for their upset, I feel the poet in question is also owed an apology for Ms. Hatton’s sexist and ill-informed response.
Firstly, I find the assumption that the poet’s act was without significance to be grossly demeaning. There is no such thing as ‘art with no other implications.’ To assume the artist had not thought through his actions is, at best, wishful thinking on the part of the offended audience member. Had Ms. Hatton absorbed the message of the poem—which, for the record, was misquoted in her article—she’d have understood what the poet’s denuding signified. Instead she’s effaced the artist’s intention on the basis of her own alarmed response.
I take greatest issue with the gendered responses assumed in the language of Ms. Hatton’s article. Both men and women fall victim to sexual violence and feel pressured sexually by society. Again, had Ms. Hatton listened to the poem in question, she would have noticed that the poem was, in part, about that societal pressure: males, too, suffer abuse, feel pain, and need outlets for that pain.
Had a female-bodied person disrobed onstage, they’d have been heralded for their bravery. Instead, the poet’s male body has unfairly framed him as a thoughtless, arrogant aggressor.
What if someone had brought forth a piece about sexual violence, describing in detail their physical and emotional pain? Should that, too, be banned for the tender responses it may elicit? That night I performed a poem that graphically describes a drug overdose, a poem that might have struck a nerve with recovering addicts in the audience. What if I was a recovering addict myself and, to make real my suffering, had rolled up my sleeves to show you my track marks? Would I have come under attack as well?
The poet under fire committed an act of deep humility. Was it the best choice creatively? Maybe not. But effacing its meaning and calling for censorship in an arena that emphasizes radical expression—that, my friends, is very clearly bullshit.
On that note, here’s the warning I think the offended parties missed: slam poetry is raw. If you can’t hang, stay at home.