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The good, the bad, and the melodramatic: Musings on this week’s slam session

Published: October 15, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

<i>PHOTO BY Andrew Rauner</i>

PHOTO BY Andrew Rauner

There’s poetry, and then there’s slam poetry. It’s easy to cast off the latter as a contemporary subset of a traditional form of expression. But some slam—the kind overwrought with lofty metaphors and melodramatic pretense—is so far from Shakespeare and so borderline hip-hop that it becomes an entirely separate entity. Though slam is deeply rooted in poetry, maybe it’s more appropriate to consider it poetry’s distant, flashy, attention-seeking cousin.

I think the question at hand is not whether slam is poetry—because undoubtedly, any form of verbal expression is poetic in its own right—but rather, how does one distinguish between good slam and some schmaltzy imitation? This is a loaded question, as is usually the case when justifying any artistic merit, and I don’t know if I’m prepared to open that can of worms. It takes a true spoken word connoisseur to spot talent and originality, whereas an inexperienced audience member can be easily fooled by a bunch of sloppy lyricism dressed up in fancy language. The difference between bad poetry and bad slam poetry is that the latter can still be entertaining, despite a staggering fail-factor.

The featured slam performers at the Brandeis Open Mic Series, or B.O.M.S. on Tuesday night were certainly entertaining. The duo consisted of long-time slammers Ian Khadan and Connor Dooley, both hailing from New Jersey. Dooley’s style was heavily satirical. In most of his pieces, however, I either failed to see the humor or always managed to miss the punch line. Two of his pieces were about female celebrities, Tyra Banks and Keira Knightley. In the Tyra poem, I couldn’t tell if he was trying to make a statement about society or if he was just having fun dissing the former model (perhaps both). (Personally, I think cracks on the size of Tyra’s forehead became officially unfunny around the third season of “America’s Next Top Model”).

The second poem was an ode to Keira Knightely, praising her as a talented and attractive young actress. Again, if there was satire, I failed to understand it. If you want to profess your love for a female celebrity, I don’t think slam is the best medium to do so. Some things are best left hidden within the pages of one’s middle school diary.

The other half of the duo, Ian Khadan, had a style that was quintessentially slam; that is to say, it sounded a lot like other stuff I’d heard countless times before. So he’s either doing something right or the exact opposite. I was overwhelmed by his imagery; I never knew there could be such a thing as “overabundance of metaphors,” but his flowery language was so profound that I ended up not having a clue what he was talking about half the time.

And when I did, it seemed really cliché and melodramatic. (Now that I think about it, maybe the reason I had trouble understanding so much of the performance was because the content was above me. Beyond comprehension, and all that. Or maybe it was just bad—who’s to say?)

Together, Khadan and Dooley make a great team. One of their team pieces compared the life of a purple octopus to a brown badger—talk about originality—and was very well-executed and funny (I actually got the humor that time!). Their distinct personalities really shined through, and together the two friends had an enjoyable performance.

Their styles balanced out and created an act that was neither overwhelming nor corny, just right. Even in the case of slam poetry, two heads are better than one.