Last night, Brandon Gorin AKA B Shark Flat did a feature slam poetry reading at the Newark Arts Alliance, and I was so impressed and inspired by him. He is a very talented poet and a really stupendous performer.
For those of you new to slam poetry as opposed to “page poetry,” poetry written on paper, slam is very performance based. It has its roots in rap and theater and involves the physical voice of the poet as a means of conveying the ideas, rhythms, and other poetry craft of the piece. My favorite slam poet is Taylor Mali, mostly because of this poem he does called “What Teachers Make.” (You can tell why I like it, right?) But Brandon, well, he’s moving up my slam ranks . . .
You see, Brandon was one of my students in my introduction to creative writing class a couple of years ago, and he has honored me by asking me to continue to comment on his work at times. While I invariably tell him to cut a third of his words, I always find something powerful, fresh, and clear about Brandon’s voice, on the page and in the air. He has the ability to be genuine, harsh, cutting, and compassionate all in the same moment, and that feat is rare for any poet, especially one so young.
I loved each and every poem that Brandon performed, even the one that critiques (fairly, I think) the impulse to want to help save the world, the one that could have been addressed directly to me. (Of course, I did love his political poem best.) Yet, what I loved is that Brandon speaks his truth without apology. He wrapped the show with a poem challenging the concept that page poetry is better than slam poetry. This one could have been addressed to me, too.
Don’t get me wrong – I really love slam poetry, but I have, unconsciously to some extent, always thought of it as lesser than words on a page. I’m not sure why that is – maybe I was just trying to use the criteria for good page poetry (whatever that criteria may be) and applying it to another art form, trying to apply the “movie wasn’t as good as the book” rule to two different art forms. Or maybe I am resentful because slam doesn’t include me, a woman a little too reserved to speak her words from a stage. Or maybe, and this is probably the most true, I’m just a literary snob on some levels – literary novels are better than romance ones, right? Wrong.
The truth is, the truth I know today because of Brandon is, anything, anything, anything that gets people to read, write, and express themselves is worthy of my respect. Thank you, Brandon, for opening the mind of your teacher. She will be ever grateful.
– Brandon T. Gorin, AKA B Shark Flat ((c) Ruth Viars Photography)