Saturday, October 02, 2004

Venting: Poetry Politics in Atlanta

IT'S NO SECRET THAT the only reason Dan V_ach invited me to be on the board of Poetry Atlanta is because the Fulton County Arts Council Atlanta Bureau for Cultural Affairs organizations from whom he was receiving grant money gave him an ultimatum: Either you will blacken up diversify your board, or we will decline your next application for grant money .

Dan V_ach would be the epicurean editor of the Atlanta Review, the most nationally renowned of Atlanta's literary journals, a journal which has rejected my work 3 times, a journal in which the only way I would ever be published as a person of color would be if I rafted across the Atlantic, survived an ethnic cleansing, and post-marked my poems from Eritrea or Liberia or some other exotic African nation Dan's Eurocultured a$$ would have to consult a Swahili dictionary to pronounce and a 2004 World Atlas to locate.

READ: The only thing my regular ol BlackAmerican a$$ is good enough for is to be a token for diversity in his grant application for public money.

Or to change the brake fluid in his Volvo.

And how did I find out that I was a token? Well, one Saturday morning over coffee, Dan told me to my face!

"These public arts organizations, the city of Atlanta and Fulton County, seemed to think that we at Poetry Atlanta weren't representing the interests of the citizens of their communities," he said. "Occasionally, in maybe every other issue, we will publish a person from Atlanta or Fulton County. But we are a very diverse publication. We publish poets from Russia, Greece, and Ireland. Once, we even published a poem handwritten on a napkin, from a poet who didn't have a typewriter, from Africa. But apparently, for them, that isn't enough.

He adjusted his glasses. "I'm the editor and they're not going to blacken control what goes into my magazine. So, I'm creating this colored community board that will focus on projects serving Atlanta and Fulton County. Which is why you are here. Once I get the money from Atlanta and Fulton County this year, my plan is to get enough funding from private donors where I won't need their public money anymore."

But the fact is, Dannyboy, today you do need their public money. And if you had any social consciousness - not to mention integrity - you wouldn't need the government stepping in to tell you that, if you're going to use tax dollars for something, that something needs to serve the needs of the people paying the taxes! You f*cking conscienceless snob!

As a result of this new community board and the projects he promised, the local governments gave Dan all the money he asked for. Hooray, Dan.

And so, it seems that the crown jewel project involves me organizing a slam, which would be breaking a promise I made to myself: That if I ever organized another slam event, I would treat it as a for-profit business venture.

Call me a greedy capitalist, but the fact is the last time I organized a slam in 2001, I lost roughly $1500 dollars. Fifteen f*cking hundred dollars! That would be the cost of me watching the sunset in South Africa, or bronzing on a beach in Brazil. But it would also be the cost of flying 4 poets from Atlanta to the 2001 National Poetry Slam in Seattle, housing us for 5 days, and renting a car for us to get around. I did it because I believed in something - a something I didn't need the f*cking government to make me believe in. And I so believed in it that I used my own money.

Do I regret it? No.

But do I want to do it again? Hell no!

Running a successful slam series is hard f*cking work, and I consider what I did in 2001 paying dues. Now, I would charge four figures to organize, emcee, and perform at a slam event. And Dan wants me to do a monthly series starting in October, not to put four figures in my pocket, but to help him acquire grant money? F*ck off, Dan!

Too good to go to the Negro readings, Dan? Afraid some of the color will rub off? Here's a thought: Why don't we move the slam to Bankhead Court (see if you can find that in your World Atlas) and have you emcee the slam yo-damn-self!


Naturally, Ayo would never say any of these things. And he won't.

Next Sunday, October 10, at 8:00 p.m., he will be there, Uncle Tom grin and all, hosting the Java Monkey slam in Decatur. And who will know the better?

So why is he doing it? Kodac Harrison. But that's a story for another time.

In the moments Ayodele feels he will combust, he will chant his own name to himself for peace.

If you haven't discovered it already, being Black in America is an Oscar-worthy performance.

Java Monkey Slam
Every 2nd Sunday, beginning Oct. 10
Church St.
Decatur, GA


BLUE said...

dayum! the truth is blinding like a mo'fo'. and i hope this particular (and widespread) practice does not keep your kind of energy and *people gifts* away from slam period. i am publicly entering the plea that we - poets - need you. please, find other ways to do what you do well. i, personally, would like to see your talent in our geography despite the well-funded and praised village idiots ... meanwhile, i will continue to be the spook who sat by the door. light! ~BLUE

Collin said...

I actually think you should tell Kodac. I am about a breath away from resigning from PA my damn self. Read my Sunday blog entry for reference. A brave and honest post. My respect continues to grow.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ayodele,
I've heard a great deal about you from acquaintences in slam like Julia Nance,KJ Simms, and the (rest in peace, Asheville slam).I also volunteered for iWPS last year in Greenville, judges and volunteered at the disaster in St. Louis this summer for nats.I've been hosting a female mic in Atlanta for 4 years (Cliterati, a name you won't see in the AJC, they refuse to print it).
Anyway, I'm very interested in busting up Atlanta poetry politics in general, and reading this makes me want to volunteer to help out,coach,be a timekeeper, do whatever, just that much more.
Anyway, I'm Karen G. (shake hands) and my email is I'm also karen_g in hellslam.

Anonymous said...

This explains a lot...

Anonymous said...

So they want to put some color into an organization whose goal is to reach the masses, only because they need some funding. A mass who are nearly 80% Black.

So, they'll take these folks money and he'll entertain them a while, just so they'll come up off their wallets. Then when he finds bigger and better pockets, he'll leave them behind.

Sounds like White Flight for Artists.

But, I guess this is still the city not to busy to exclude. Lester Maddox would be proud.


nolapoet said...

Holy shit, Ayodele! No wonder things have been so fucking...WEIRD around here the past year or so!!

If it makes you feel any better, Dan hasn't published any of my work, either--but I haven't sent him any in a long time and don't think he'd like it anyway.

Dan was very kind to me when I started out as a poet, which I appreciated. And I really respect Alicia Stallings and Memye Curtis Tucker, both as people and as poets, who are on the magazine.

I think that Dan's thing is to have an international magazine that just happens to be based in Atlanta. Whether that is something Atlanta tax dollars should support is debatable either way.

I strongly dislike the Poetry Mafia mentality that seems to have taken root in Atlanta. I stay out of it as much as I can.

But that also means I get neatly boxed, shelved, and conspicuously not featured because I don't show up for every event on the calendar, and because I happen to write in form half the time, and because I happen to have an MFA, and because I happen to teach, and because I don't happen to be peddling a book or a CD at the moment, and because I happen to think 80% of performance and slam poetry (just as 80% of print poetry) frankly sucks.

I am not afraid to pass judgment because I HAVE read widely, and not just canonical dead white male formalists, thank you very much.

I do think that poetry is open to all, but I don't think that that means all that anyone writes is poetry, or that any poem that anyone writes is worth inflicting on an audience/reader.

I HAVE freestyled, just not here, and can hold my own, I but don't care to and I don't aspire to win slams.

So this makes me not a viable option for a feature? Love that open-mindedness! Love that passion for the word! Love that willingness to challenge one's own preconceived notions about literature! Riiiiight.

And while I'm carping, why do we have to imitate the Nuyoricans or the Beats or Def Poetry Jam or all the time? BOOOOORIIIIING. Can't we come up with our OWN thing?... Can't we cross-fertilize without being completely derivative or reinventing the wheel?...

WHERE ARE THE SPANISH-SPEAKING POETS ON THE ATLANTA CIRCUIT?...I am trying to set up a bilingual poetry reading series precisely because there ARE none. (Anyone out there, "dime, por favor!!!!")

As for the substance of your conversation with Dan, I am shocked. COMPLETELY shocked. Part of me hopes this is a misinterpretation, but I have no reason to doubt what you report firsthand. Maybe you and I should start a new journal. What a trip THAT would be.

I think there's enough room in Atlanta as in the rest of the world for many different poetry styles, schools, etc. Atlanta definitely does NOT need any self-appointed arbiters of What Poetry Is In Atlanta. We are as a city considered third-rank among poets, precisely for reasons like this.

Robin Kemp

Every Poet Needs A Patio

Hurricane Poets Checkin

nolapoet said...

Say, I just fund out something cool! When I click on my NOLAPOET graphic that's not there, it's redirected to!

Big Brother must be a fan of my poetry!