Monday, June 20, 2005

HBO Def poetry - needs a hearing aide

Lately since the recent season premiere of ‘Russel Simmons presents Def Poetry’ which airs Friday nights at 10:30 on HBO, as well as several rebroadcasts of the same episode several times that night as well as during the week and on any number of the HBO substations,(HBO2, HBOZone, HBO west coast ect…) anyway lately myself and several of my poetry counterparts and as well as people I admire in the poetry world, we have been discussing the quandary that is Def Poetry. As I stated in a friends comments section - Me and Def poetry have a love hate relationship - I love the possibility they hate living up to. It has been pointed out that the ratio of Poets to Celebrities has gotten out of hand- as if there aren’t enough good poets doing good poetry –(Because apparently going from the quality of poets performing you don’t have to be spectacular – just better than average.) to fill an half an hour. I digress at even the most mediocre poetry spot – we can fill 30 minutes with some pretty good stuff. Just a few of those poets featured on Def Poetry are good performers and average poets. This last episode I listened to – and enjoyed Dan Sully and Tim Strattford "Death From Below", Bassey Ikpi "I Want to Kiss You", Georgia Me "For Your Protection", and Will Da Real One Bell "Diary of the Reformed". My fiancée really enjoyed Alica Keys’ poem “P.O.W.” and I thought it was alright – I could tell she really believes in her poems the way she believes in her music – or she’s a great actress and needs to try out for some movie - that's my biggest thing about spoken word in general- that performance is so much more the focus than poetry, how you say what you are saying in stead of HOW you SAY what you are saying - are you following me people?

I catch so much flack for feeling this way - but if you don't read poetry - try and learn your craft how can you call yourself a poet? Alica Keys can call her self a musician because she studies and grabs the art of playing the piano, comics practice material and study comics before them - Because you expressed your self with a poem - that automatically makes you a poet? how bout no? How bout I'm gonna practice medicine but that don't make me a doctor. There are a few other main stream poetry shows out there along with a countless numbers put together by public access channels. I have heard of one on Black Family Channel - and I never know when BET is gonna show Lyric Café (has anyone seen a accurate BET show guide –really?) so the shows are there, they just suffer from the same fate hip hop has become befallen to. Commercialization. When people figure out they can make money on something – its usually by making it look like something else. In this case – its easy to try an package Poetry like hip/hop or worse yet - Rap, to make money off of it.

I love poetry - I honestly do, and what people put on paper and call poetry hurts my little poet soul some days. And I watch Def poetry because it is such a step forward but like all things commercial Russell is more concerned with the bottom line than keeping it real. Don’t get me wrong I believe he believes in the potential of the art, that he feels like he is promoting poetry the way he promoted hip hop- but it isn’t the same. And it is sad that he can't see the earning potential in poetry in its natural state , that he feels he must amp it up to retain viewers, sadly it may be the opposite.
Poetry is not hip hop. Rappers are not poets. Anymore than I can stand up and rap I don’t believe they can stand up and spit. I do admit there are poets who can rap – and rapper who read well; Dahlak Brathwaite: "Just Another Routine Check" from episode (29) i.e this seasons first episode is a prime example. But those are exceptions to the rule.
As much as I love him Mos Def is not a poet in all of his renaissance man theologian, broadway, hip hop Mc, Actor, movie star goodness – he’s not a poet, so why is he hosting? He’s not even good at it. And all in all isn’t that the point? Poets being good enough at poetry to warrant a show. You didn’t have celebrities on Def Comedy Jam or did I miss the episode where comics weren’t funny enough on their own they needs some celebrity push. I understand the finance of it, I know I spent more than my fair share of my income (more than 40% some years) putting poetry events together to try and further the poetry movement, and poetry don't make money in most average sized markets. and that's real - markets like b-more and NYC and LA that's a bit different some marketing and promos and some phat poets and you can get 300 peeps weekly to come and shell out a cover - but that don't stop me from loving poetry or spending my money trying to push it further still, or begging Def Poetry to be real about it. Def poetry could be something great just like Def comedy launched careers, Def poetry could do that – for more than the 8 to ten who did Def Poetry on Broadway. They could have a new cast every year, they could be the base that launched poetry tours like Kings of comedy – (I know there was one that did a show in BMore but I’m talking true tour in the realest most commercially feasible sense of the word.) Def poetry could be the venue that makes poets respect the form more, makes commercial media respect the art form more, But honestly that’s really the poets job isn’t it? If we don’t respect our art to demand more of the people using it – especially our selves – then we don’t have a whole lot of room to talk do we? I'm just trying some different avenues. Tell me what you think….

p.s the DVD's of the show need to be better too, we all know everypoet gets up there and does at least two or three pieces - they need to do some real bonus material and some interviews and stuff fromthe show... Shoot the DVD was like twenty bucks for four shows... Russell you need to get real on that one fo sho!


Anonymous Copasetic Soul said...

aight aight aight....preach on that my sister! the piece that Alicia Keys did was kewl, just too over acted and i believe that took away from the piece. Def Poetry did
the Def Poetry on Broadway, that was its Kings of Comedy tour....

and you are right, they should add more extra's to the dvd's... interviews with the Poets, extra poems AND deleted scenes! i was wondering WHY Mos Def was hosting as well,lol....why not Lamar Hill, Queen Sheba or Jessica Care Moore? you know....POETS!

and LYRICS Cafe, comes on BET Jazz.

9:25 AM  
Anonymous delrica said...

I feel you on that, ma.

As far as Mos hosting, I hear he's actually not a bad guy and a good fit.

But people the likes of QS and LH...well, even though we know them; in the world of Hollywood...they're still unknowns and may not generally appeal to the masses from a corporate standpoint.

JCM? She's got her own thing she's doing...isn't her television show "Spoken" coming up soon? Maybe she'll be the one to ultimately shut down DPJ.

10:15 AM  
Blogger thir13teenandtheysayitain'tlucky said...

Alicia Keyes proved to be a singer/song writer who wants to make the leap to the big screen. For a minute, I thought she deserved Halle's Oscar. I check out the Poet's Joint on Coulor's TV (DISH Network), mostly East Coast Poets, THEY ARE SLEEPING ON THE SOUTH AND MIDWEST, but, it's poetry ya know? And no, I have not caught one episode of Lyric's Cafe.I am highly disappointed with Death (of) Poetry. I know several poets who were asked to tape, but they were never aired (some good, some not so good). Hopefully, a few of the Texas Poets will air this season, Joaquin (NPS 2004, 2005), Rock Baby (NPS 2003, 2004, 2005), GNO and Jason (Coach 2004) all from Dallas, and Da'Shade and Zell (both NPS 2004) from Austin. One highlight, last year, Andy Buck (NPS 2004), the coach for 2005 Austin Slam aired the final episode for last season. Perhaps the show will get better as the season progresses. If not we have NPS. Which, as COPA stated in his blog, the show did not do these poets justice. I had the opportunity to see them rip the stage in person (i got splinters to prove it) and it was unbelievable....

12:55 PM  
Blogger CousinSarah said...

I posted on Copasetic's blog about this too. I just am tired of seeing the commercialzation of things I love so much. Hip Hop and poetry being two of them. I dont have the cable to see DPJ anymore, but I used to watch it and get the seasons on DVD. I have mixed feelings about Mos right now. I do think some of his stuff COULD be spoken New World Water from his BOBS cd...that song could be spoken could Fear Not of Man. However, his recent Denali commercial...and yeah, I say it every chance I get cause it has cut me real deep just really made me speechless.
It is this commercialism, sell your soul for a dollar that is killing us. But as we talked about before, it is reflective what is happening with class issues.
I have talked to you before about my thoughts on the reflection of music and movements--particulalry regarding hip the 80's you saw Public Enemy, X Clan, Tribe, KRS One and many others making political statements cause Reagen made poor folks REAL poor, hurt African Americans very badly as we all know, especially after some of the economic successes for African Americans in the 70' you saw a political consciousness in music. Even gansta rap at it's inception was about an honest truth of street life Cube, 2pac...HOWEVER, things got better financially under Clinton/90's, and music became more commercialized, rappers (and I choose rapper purposely) started making more money and songs that were coming from Jay Z ( I know you Jay Z fans are hard core and his earlier stuff is ok, but for sometime now it's been fluff imo), the southern rap genre and the likes where more fluff...look at my ride, my girls, my money. Gangsta rap started to glamorize street life instead of depict it, cause folks were makin money at it. NOW we are seeing in this recession a re-emergence of Neo Soul music both R&B and Hip Hop--some of Nas's stuff, Talib's...more socially conscious work. But we have this dichotomy of the fluff and neo soul movement.
So, in my long winded way, it kills me when someone/thing that has held true to some sense of consciousness finally gives in for the dollar...cuts me real deep. And it just seems to be very very prevalent in general right now, and it is hard to swallow.

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Hilah said...

You're right. I do think that poetry is too commericalized these days, but at they same time, most of the poets I see on Def Poetry that I think are amazing, (you didn't mention the poem, but Caroline Harvey's "Spoons" made me cry) I can't find there work. I try a lot and I just can't find it. I do think that Mos is a okay host, and he brings in the fans of Mos Def. Also, most of his rapping I find to just be poetry with a beat behind it.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually agree with a huge portion of what you posted. It's late and my computer is acting up so I can't say too much. What I will say is that a lot of people behind DPJ are trying to do what's best for poetry. But with all things, presented to the masses for entertainment, they have to make many, many concessions to people who do not have the best interest of poetry or the poets at heart. Stan Lathan the director of DPJ is an amazing man who is trying to do right by poetry. But HBO won't sign a show of unknowns. And there's no audience for straight poets. It's entertainment, there has to be an audience and folks have been fighting to keep things moving in the proper direction. I won't name names as to who isn't. But it's not as black and white (literally) as it appears.

Also, five years ago when I was approached by DPJ, I was concerned about "selling out" and "commercializing" my work. My father told me, "Why should't you get paid for doing what you enjoy? And why shouldn't you be compensated? You wouldn't ask a painter to paint your house 'for the love.'" and he had a great point. And I realized that people who change who they are for commercial success would do it anyway. Those who will stay true to themselves and the work should be the ones pushing to be heard because those voices are just as important as the ones that scream and rant for the sake of it.

It's a choice. I choose not to do commercials for products I don't use. I don't drink soda. I don't drink liquor. Shit, I can't drive anymore. But I will do a voice over for a PSA on something that I believe in. There's a way to pick your battles and win the ones you didnt' pick too.

Word to just 'cuase you own a pen don't make you a poet. Preach that.

Thanks for the shout out and link.

take care,

PS> I guess I did have more than I thought to say.

12:06 AM  

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