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The other day I was browsing on YouTube and came across this video. I’ve been sort of simmering on the idea of using video with poetry to try and make interesting readings/experiences for the past couple of months — And though this isn’t exactly along those lines, it’s in the general spirit of using the popular medium of YouTube to try and reinvigorate poetry as a medium.

Watching this video I’m rather torn between whether I think this sort of thing is helpful or not. Watch the video, I think it’s pretty compelling. The performer, in this case Taylor Mali, seems adept at playing the audience. It’s an entertaining performance, I’ll grant that, and it’s got a good social message too (assuming that matters).

The question, I think, is whether it’s appropriate to endorse this sort of venue, a “Poetry Slam” — Whatever that means — and this sort of craftsmanship — Which is, very little. I’ll admit I have absolutely no knowledge of what a “Poetry Slam” is, but by the format of this video, and ones like it, I can gather that it’s some sort of competitive poetry reading. And who needs that? Is getting the biggest rise out of your audience by pandering to their lowest common denominator tastes something that should be encouraged, or is the benefit in popularization worth the theoretical downsides?

And on craftsmanship: What we see in the video is a good oratory — But is it a good poem? Being rather more of a traditionalist I’d say no. What is here to say, “This is poetry”?

Reading down the transcription
Of what he says, it’s more like a sentence broken
Up with line breaks than meticulously thought out
Stanzas, accorded meter and rhyme and rhythm

Try as I might, I can’t find myself accepting that this is in any way representative of “good” poetry, or even worthy of that title at all. Good oratory? Sure. But writing down one’s thoughts in prose and adding in line breaks has never struck me as valid craftsmanship.

I’d like to know what you might think on the matter. Are poetry slams good? Is popularization of poetry good? Should we insist on standards of craftsmanship, or play it loose with terminology, since it’s all constructed categories anyway? If not, where’s the line? And am I just being a snob?

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