August 29, 2011

Spoken Word versus Poetry

If you believe that poetry is about the celebration of language then poetry whether written or spoken exists in a multitude of forms.    Contrary to many people's view, I believe poetry is a very welcoming, wants to embrace the variety of work being produced in its name, but too often I'm meeting minds that want to be prescriptive rather than descriptive with the term.   To be prescriptive with "poetry" is to say, "I like poetry, but what "they" are doing is merely rant, or yelling, or just prose with a lot of bombast," or "not poetry."   To be descriptive is to say, "I don't have a definition.   If someone wants to call what they do poetry, that's fine by me."   To be descriptive is to strip institutions of their power, their cultural capital, to decide how, what, and why artists create.   Too often, our institutions (cultural and educational) celebrate the models that conform to their prescribed notions and mock art that doesn't quite fit.  

My argument is this rarely has anything to do with art or the creative process.  Rather, this argument is really about power.  The creation and consumption of art is entirely subjective.   Yet, if I'm a creator of art then it is in my interest to have what I do defined as "art" and what you do defined as "not art."  Of course, this also has a lot to do with commodification.   When art is relegated to a commodity, then some art will have more "value" than other art.   And as a consumer, I want to buy the "best art."  This also has very little to do with art and reflects on how people see themselves and what group they wish to belong.   Saying I like Jazz is immediately different than saying I like Hiphop.   While both, in my estimation, are valid forms of art, one has more relative "worth" than the other.  Indeed, one may have more marketable worth (Hiphop) and one may have more artistic worth (Jazz).   So, by posing the question as I did, I was hoping to get the panelist to wrestle with what their pre-conceived notions of what art are, and by extension to get the audience to see how we all make value judgments about art.  Rarely do those judgments come from "absolute value," rather they are merely opinions.  Opinions, informed are otherwise, are still opinions. 

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