Poetry with a Southern Accent
In my mind, I hear poetry with a southern accent. I’m not exactly sure when the internal voice started, but I do know that the type of poetry, no matter how old or contemporary, long or short, comprehensible or abstract, doesn’t matter. When I read Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter, I slip into a Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood southern drawl, and I like it. Sometimes, I force myself to hear the poetry from a man’s perspective. Always, Matthew McConaughey’s voice pops in my head. What’s even crazier, though, is that when I read or recite poetry aloud, I have to keep myself from feigning that accent for fear drawing the ire and laughter of those listening.
This is just one reason why I am no good at Poetry Slam.
I wish I could parlay my written snarkiness into verbal snarkiness, but I can’t. While I can stand in front of a group of students day in and day out, prattling on and on about the beauty of the language in an otherwise stark novella like Ethan Frome, to stand in front of a group of adults and recite my original poetry (or grocery list, for that matter), makes me feel like I’m being attacked by a sudden case of IBS. My stomach starts doing things that make me question my last four meals, and I want to shrink in a corner like my dog when he realizes that I’ve discovered the shoes he’s chewed and hidden not-so-expertly out of my sight.
Then, there’s the hip hop element. Yes, I am black, and yes, I like urban music, but no, I don’t have that type of rhythm pumping through my veins. And standing in front of a group of people expecting to see something rap-ish flow lyrically from my lips petrifies me because my lack of rhythm is as stereotypically unbelievable as an Asian girl being bad at math. (Please note that I do know that not all Asian Americans are mathematicians!) Yes, we all know that black people without rhythm do exist, but the sightings are as rare as the Yeti, right? (We just don’t attempt to join the Rhythm Nation in front of people with camera phones at the ready for fear of total ostracization.)
And the drama? Yeah, I have none. Being good at Poetry Slam means that one possesses a certain flair for the dramatic, and while I can be dramatic (just ask my husband after I realize he’s been home all day and hasn’t washed a single dish), calling up the drama from nowhere is not my forte. My drama comes from a real place of spontaneous emotion. And yes, I am a woman, but no, I just can’t fake it. It’s so obvious when I do, so it doesn’t have the feeling of real emotion that is so necessary to win one of those competitions.
Finally, Poetry Slam can be loud, and I like the quiet, intimacy of my poetic encounters. I’ve never professed to being especially good at reading or writing poetry, but I do like it a lot. In fact, I write it purely because it makes me feel good. The hooping, hollering, clapping, and screaming of Poetry Slam intimidates me and detracts from a real connection, in my opinion, to the words, symbols, and feelings of a good (stylistically or intriguingly) poem. Give me some verses, a glass of wine, and a southern internal monologue, and I’m one happy camper.
PS: Thanks, Margie, for the convo yesterday. It, as you can see, inspired this post.