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Slammed To The Gills (Posted On: Wednesday, November 25, 2009)

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Dateline--Words Aloud Poetry and Storytelling Festival, November 5-8, 2009, Durham, Owen Sound, Walkerton:  Representing the Grey/Bruce poetry slam team, Harry Posner, in his first ever competition in Owen Sound, reaches the final and finishes in 4th spot overall.  Harry is thrilled with the result as he has just entered the fascinating world of competitive word-smithing and survived the tension-filled, souped-up energy of this most recent of literary phenomena.

Poetry slams, a combination of figure-skating style judging and poetic theatrics—Snoop Doggy Dog on blades, if you will—have sprung up like wordy weeds all over the world.  In the back rooms of cafes, at literary festivals, underneath bridges (just kidding), these enthusiastically attended happenings are irreverant, edgy, noisy, but most of all huge fun for audiences who not only engage the poet/performers with cheers and hoots, but are also judge and jury, carrying the “power of the people” to declare the victor after 3 grueling rounds.

Yes, Keats and Shelley would do somersaults in their graves over this most proletarian of literary activities, but then again these bards didn’t grow up in the age of MTV and Rap.  Not that slam poets only do Rap.  Each poet brings a unique style of delivery, from mindboggling rapid fire tirades to bursts of song, from deeply felt emotional rants to slap happy tropes on the quirks and quarks of existence.  Part guerilla theatre, part new media, the poetry slam is a challenge to the psyche and (hopefully) an assault on our normal ways of poetically viewing the world.

Harry is thrilled with the Owen Sound result but now must go on to Durham, the central hub of the festival to compete once again.  Being a ‘veteran’ of 1 slam, he begins to strategize.  His thoughts go something like this:

I came 4th yesterday.  Am I satisfied with that result?  Hell no!  So here’s what I’ll do.  If I’m called up early, I’ll hit them hard with the “Mind” poem.  It’s zany and ‘out there’, but I get to show off my skills at doing different voices and accents.  It did get me into the second round yesterday, so it’s strong enough for the early going.  On the other hand, if I’m called up later I’ll do “In The Temple of Way Cool”, my ‘jazz’ poem; rhythmic, cool, musical (I scat sing) and a gem of a piece what works well for the older crowd who get the references to Herbie and Bix/Errol and Miles/Billy, Sara and Nina waiting to slip you an indigo smile.  Then I blast them in the final round (if I get there) with “Where is Our Howl?”, my angry call to arms reminiscent of Ginsberg’s iconic poem from the 1950’s.  It’s passion and density might be enough to take it all.

By this point Harry is hooked into the ‘riding a tiger’ energy of slam.  His fellow poets, 2 from Grey/Bruce, 5 from Toronto (including the current Toronto Slam champion) are upbeat and encouraging, softening the edges of what might otherwise become a tense hotbox of competitive egos.

Then the announcement … only enough time for 2 rounds today.  One round of 7 poets, then a final four competing for the ‘trophy’ (the golden salami).

Harry looks around the Durham Town Hall and sees a lot of grey hairs and he knows what to do.  He goes up and performs the jazz poem, really getting into the musical schwing of the piece, and scats up a storm. His marks are strong and he makes it into the final four.

Now he knows he has a chance.  If he can land his Howl poem, give it everything he’s got ….  But the Toronto champ is in the final, as are two other really talented poets—White Noise and Valentino Assenza.

Just a note to say that some slammers choose to adopt a handle, an alias, part of the irreverent, edgy side of the game.  Harry’s handle, made up moments before slam #1 is ‘Monster of Mayhem’, about as opposite as you can get to a mousy looking, pony-tailed, bald tea proprietor.

When his name is called, Monster of Mayhem strides up to the microphone, filling himself with righteous anger, all the better to deliver an incendiary poetic device.  He proceeds to gaze piercingly at the audience before launching into a fire and brimstone “Where is our Howl?.”  He’s never done it better.  He’s in the zone, the words fly out of his mouth like metaphoric bats out of Hell and he finishes his 3 minute diatribe with a mind-bending wolf howl that shakes the dust from the rafters.  The house goes wild, that is to say, applauds for a long time.  The poem scores huge marks, garnering several perfect tens from the judges.

The stage is set, points are tallied, judges confer, and the announcement comes down.  “The winner of the 2009 Words Aloud Durham Poetry Slam is … Monster of Mayhem!”

Harry’s done it.  He’s taken the big prize in only his 2nd ever slam.  Actually there is no prize, just the satisfaction of having competed with passion and integrity, staying true to his vision of what spoken word can be, within a culture so obsessed anti-literate nonsense.

Harry knows he’s no Snoop Doggy Dog, nor can he do a triple toe loop like Elvis Stoyko, but in his own small way he has brought some literary acclaim to Grey/Bruce.  And that’s just too cool for words.

Harry Posner is co-proprietor of zencha tea bar in Collingwood, Ontario.

where is our Howl?
(for Allen Ginsberg)

in this digitized punch drunk
parched and pixilated webcast of a dream world
where is our Howl?
our outrageous jesters outing bare-assed kings
who’d eat our hearts for hors d’oeuvres
fling the leftovers into cold rivers?

where is our Howl?
our shape-shifting shrieks
our screeching vultures
wheeling through the ‘machinery of night’
our fight or die hips belted with clips
full of killer queries
our Moloch hunters
the connectors
the love junkies immune to IED’s
buried in the sands of samadhi?

where is our Howl?
our driving beat jazzed with horizons
songs that turn data-drugged minds away from cranked-up cities
away from ‘who gives a shit’?
and where is our anthem for peace
John and Yoko dans une chambre Quebecoise
folded into the question mark of each other
naked in the pool
sitting seiza in the matrix
goin down the road like a tripped-out fool
and ‘All we are saying’?

is that we’re ‘mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore’
where is our hundredth monkey in the Octagon
choking out Hector ‘The Doomsayer’ Crivo
our chance for atonement
for letting down a generation
born into 9/11 and Rwanda
fed cyberfood and cyberthought
logo-dressed by corporate hacks
our chance to admit we failed you
in our acts of blindness?

where is our Howl?
our prayer for a new millenium
our secret wish incanted from cliff tops
decanted into the sacred chalice
evolutionary Soma
proto-cultural psilocybin
the high so high that down is up
and the lies of the governors
float away like milkweed puffs
on the winds of change?

where is our burn-song
our nacht der langen messer
the key moment
the play of ideas in the lock
that unhexes and dezombifies
shows us that we could be
as brilliant as whales
as bee hives
as turtles
as wise
as owls
and as relentless in the hunt?

where is our Howl?
our now-song bleeding red
our heart-sick warriors sacking another Rome
our artists making millions
while marketeers beg for bread
on the craven streets inside their iphones
and those who pass by the hungry
suddenly lose their looks
and the world is seen for what it is
a wall of pretty anaesthetizing meat hooks?

where is our Howl?
our here is what is
our migration-ready wings
buzzing like reeds in a sax crazy bebop band
where is our music, the new currency
our quality of mercy
our well of good will
and who will stand up
and speak for the Moon goddess
grow a Jewish beat poet beard
wear androgynous sandals
become the black wolf swaying
to the swoon of civilization’s discontent
take Gaia’s battered face in his hands
kiss her full on the mouth
make love to her voluptuous lands
and bray through her orgasm
into the concupiscent darkness of our times 
WHERE IS OUR HOWL?

Harry Posner
(Monster of Mayhem)

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