Poets discuss tension between page and stage poetry

Regie Cabico moderated the session on stage poetry versus page poetry, where poets Rachel McKibbens, José Padua and Jeffrey McDaniel discussed the differences between them. Photo by Marlena Chertock for The Writers’ Bloc.

By Marlena Chertock

Published first in The Writers’ Bloc.

Poets are constantly trying to define what poetry is and what type of poetry they fit into.

A panel of four poets, Regie Cabico, Rachel McKibbens, Jeffrey McDaniel and José Padua, led the session titled “Stage & Page: What’s the Fuss” and tried to define and distinguish between page poetry and stage on Thursday at the Split this Rock 2012 poetry festival in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve never felt more bisexual in my life, trying to find out if you’re a page poet or performance poet or both,” said Cabico, the moderator of the session.

Cabico has been described as a pioneer of slam poetry. He won top prizes in the 1993, 1994 and 1997 National Poetry Slams and won the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam.

There is often misunderstanding and tension between page and stage poetry and poets, according to Cabico.

“I feel that we should be able to swim together,” he said.

McDaniel has been asked ‘Well, how do you feel as a slam poet that no one will ever take you seriously as a writer?’  The author of four books of poetry has been misidentified as a slam poet, when he said he just wants to be recognized as a writer.

Slam poetry is becoming more mainstream and well-known in several communities and universities. Poets go on slam tours. Some people who consider themselves poets don’t ever write down their lines.

YouTube has helped performance poets gain an audience, according to Cabico.

“Whenever I perform a poem it’s like performing a Broadway show-stopper without having to sing,” he said.

McKibbens believes it is extremely important for poets to know how to read their poems and give justice to their poems through reading.

“It’s so sad when a poet writes beautifully and doesn’t know how to perform their poetry,” she said.

Padua agreed. “It’s nice to see exactly how the poet wants their poetry read,” he said. Padua’s manuscript “Here Comes the Monster” was runner-up for the Many Mountains Moving Poetry Prize.

Slam poets, just like any poet, should study literature, all types of form as well as dance, art and music, according to McKibbens. It widens their understanding of poetry and their creativity.

Spoken word or slam poetry has a huge history in literature and the classics. “The Iliad” was spoken aloud to people, as a type of performance, according to McKibbens.

“A lot of academics need to realize the history of poetry, that slam actually is an oral tradition,” she said.

McKibbens, with her recently published book “Pink Elephant,” struggled to understand John Milton, Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” and other formal poetry in school.

But she found her voice elsewhere. She is a New York Foundation for the Arts poetry fellow and teaches creative writing throughout the country.

McDaniel agreed with McKibbens and said the idea that slam poetry is the death of poetry is a dinosaur point of view. He thinks it will be a long time before slam poetry is accepted in the academic world.

But this is a blurry era in poetry with a lot of conceptual and experimental poetry happening and being heard, McDaniel said.

“We can begin to build our own structures if there’s something not there or that doesn’t fit for us,” he said.

When poets or a particular type of poetry aren’t recognized, that’s when poetry does its work.

“Just concentrate on what you have to say,” she said. “Your work should not have to be praised for you to know the weight of it. Just write your story; it’s your story.”

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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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