Why Wash. U. is lucky to have WUSLAM
Last semester, I took The Art of Poetry with professor Steven Meyer. We read Wordsworth and Coleridge and “The Opening of the Field” by Robert Duncan, but the most impressive thing we read was William Empsons’ “Seven Types of Ambiguity.” Empson was an arrogant dude—there is no doubt about it. But he had good reason to be. He was a brilliant literary scholar, and, most impressively, he made it clear throughout his work of criticism that he had literally memorized all of the poems and plays he was citing.
Imagine that. He had all of “Hamlet” memorized, every line of Wordsworth packed into his brain. And, as I was trudging through his thick prose, I realized that no one nowadays has entire anthologies dedicated to memory, always ready for regurgitation.
It’s not our fault. Currently, poetry just doesn’t have the exposure it once had. In an age when MTV dictates what facets of culture we attend to, music videos have emerged in lieu of written poetry.
So what’s the problem with poetry? Why doesn’t it thrive on cable television? (Another question: Are the poems too good to be on MTV? But more on that later…) The answer to the first two questions: performance. As in, a lack of it. Poetry is thought of as being paper-bound and two-dimensional, in more ways than one. A medium like television emphasizes and actually requires the performance, and there is nothing performative about a white piece of paper with some lines scribbled on it.
That is what makes The Grand Slam so fantastic. It brings poetry to the masses, without distilling the essence or dumbing down the lyrics. If anything, the performances enhance the poet’s tone and message, placing a human touch behind rhymed words. If you thought a poet had to be Emily Dickinson, holed up in her room while her mom sends her sandwiches on a pulley system, The Grand Slam would like to have a few choice words with you.
There are poets living all around us, with words pent up, and without many places to say them. The Grand Slam in the DUC was that place on Friday night. The house was packed; there were enough attendees to warrant an additional live feed of the event in the Fun Room. Students spilled over the railings.
Eruptions of snaps and cheers served as reminders that The Grand Slam isn’t just about the poets: It’s about the audience, too. The poet has to find himself through the poem, but the poet’s self-discovery means nothing if the poet can’t make a connection with the audience. Make no mistake, every poet on Saturday night connected with the audience.
And suddenly it seems silly to have compared a poetry performance to a music video in the first place. The energy in these slams is unmatched and surpasses anything MTV can produce. WUSLAM is new, but more importantly it’s fresh, and you can tell that the Slammers loved it. The Slamily rocked the house.
Correction: The original version stated that the Grand Slam occurred on Saturday. It actually occurred on Friday.