Tuesday, September 11, 2007

poetry (n) the public spear

Back to Maria Damon's critical essays for a moment. I've just read "Was That 'Different,' 'Dissident' or 'Dissonant'? Poetry (n) the Public Spear: Slams, Open Readings, and Dissident Traditions."

Charles Bernstein’s breakthrough book called Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word (Oxford, 1998) is full of good essays on the aural ellipsis, the poet’s voice, speech effects, and a history of the contemporary poetry reading, but only Damon’s essay, for better or worse (I say mostly better), really engages the irony and dissonance and difference in the writerly critic’s act of setting into print the problem presented by oral/performance poets such as Benjamin Zaphaniah, whose line “But dis is de stuff I like” becomes Damon’s own intrepid critical refrain (“I’ve tried Shakespeare, respect due dere / But dis is de stuff I like”). When Damon sets the line

But dis is de stuff I like

into roman type, outside quotation marks, the phrase becomes consciously her own. After that, her brief summaries of open readings and the slam movement have about them the intimacy she hopes to achieve, not an easy feat in a fancy book published by Oxford University Press.