Classic Poem Series Note: We are excited with the positive response so far to the announcement of the $500 H.O. Prize for Humorous and Original Slam Poetry!

And to celebrate and spread the enthusiasm, as many days as our internet works before the National Poetry Slam in Denver in August, we’re going to share poems that inspired this prize. These poems come from comedy, or utter weirdness, or savage intelligence, or pure exuberance.

Today’s poem comes from the heart of Spoken Weird, R. C. Weslowski and the Vancouver Poetry Slam in 2010. 

If you don’t know these folks — maybe you just started slamming, or come from the college scene — then you might not know what Spoken Weird is AT ALL. This is a tragedy that must be remedied. Writing and performing Spoken Weird is not for everyone, but performing in a slam alongside it should be.

Why Spoken Weird?

What’s poetry for, anyway? Not just slam poetry, any poetry. Maybe you have your theories on this, or maybe you haven’t thought about it at all, but I have. Poetry seeks to condense prose through metaphor, simile, and sound to evoke emotion in the reader/audience. That’s what I think.

Underlying this need to condense and transcend prose, however, is the unspoken truth that words are merely imperfect placeholders that represent larger things. When someone says “tree,” the word doesn’t contain the meaning, your mind fetches that meaning for you after you hear the stimulus of the word. When you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle.

Every poet has heard complaints from prose-likers who “just want the facts.” Those people have bought into the idea that the words they hear and read are objectively real. But they are not. They are merely indicators of things, not the things themselves.

And this brings me to Spoken Weird, and how it makes poetry slam a better place when you can find it there. The term originated in Vancouver to describe experimental work that evoked feeling without being strictly narrative. Maybe it would be like the poem posted here, a string of nonsense words that does form a narrative. Or maybe it would be an unnecessarily tall tale of the “ancient art of water bowling, passed down from uncle to nephew” accompanied by a demonstration of the silliest instrument to ever hit a stage. If you’re lucky.

Either way, when Spoken Weird is in the mix, the whole slam is put into the context of the inherent limitations of words and the infinite possibilities available to us with these magical puzzle pieces. We’re never really able to contain the whole of life within them, but when we try, magic can happen all the same.

So what I’m saying is, a slam bout without anything that plays with the form is a bout that thinks it knows what poetry is all about, and lives within those limitations.

Do you want to live in a limited world? With a limited mind? Really? NO, YOU DO NOT.

The poem here, “Beauty Ba Bo,” absolutely blew up Group Piece Finals in 2010. By 10 p.m. on Friday night (when Group Piece Finals is scheduled), National attendees have seen more than 100 poems. They’ve been sad, they’ve been mad, they’ve been uplifted by bravery, they’re exhausted.

But have they had enough of joyful weirdness? Definitely not. The crowd went wild. Everyone felt alive. Our thanks go to R. C. and Van Slam for bringing us that moment. #soblessed

Edit! We found the actual Group Piece footage!!!

Follow along with this year’s contenders for the H. O. Prize for Humorous and Original Poetry by liking us on Facebook!

H. O. Tanager
H. O. Tanager is the author of Autograph Penis: An Adventure Through Competitive Performance Art and Haiku Princess: Poems in Ascending Order of Profanity. You can also find beautiful Haiku Princess prints and more at RedBubble.
H. O. Tanager is the author of Autograph Penis: An Adventure Through Competitive Performance Art and Haiku Princess: Poems in Ascending Order of Profanity. You can also find beautiful Haiku Princess prints and more at RedBubble.
  • Rc Weslowski

    Thanks for the kind words. It was a blast of good times turning a solo piece into a group performance. My teammates were inventive and willing to experiment. In case no one knows their names, they are Johnny MacRae (of water bowling fame), Lucia Misch, Sasha Langford and Chris Masson (who was also our coach and third eye.)

    I also have what is basically a spoken weird podcast called Oh No Not Another Podcast. You can listen to it on my website which is http://www.rcweslowski.com

    Thanks again

    RC