2016 Poetry Slam

Blogger here. I have taught senior English for all three years that I have been at my current school, and each of those three years has concluded with a poetry slam. Seniors are given the task of writing a slam poem reflection on their senior year and performing it for the class on the day of the final. It usually turns into a giant sob-fest as students write about their friends and favorite teachers, and they realize that they have finally reached the end of their senior year.

Well, this has just been one of those years. As the week of finals approached, I began to realize I really had nothing to say. And if I did, I was too exhausted to look for the words to say it.

We’ve been reading a lot of DFW in senior English lately, excerpts from Infinite Jest in particular. So I thought I’d try my hand at found poetry for my 2016 slam poem. And after a couple of hours of combing through and arranging pieces of text, here is what I came up with:

A Piece of Spoken Word Poetry in which, Unable to Find My Own Words, I Borrow Those of One David Foster Wallace to Reflect Upon This Moment and Offer Words of Encouragement and Advice to the Albert Einstein Academy Graduating Class of 2016.

Part, the First. In Which I Reflect Upon My Own Nervousness and Anxiety at the Thought of Standing in Front of 62 Soon-to-Be Graduates in What is Supposed to Be an Important and Significant Moment; Taking Words from the Interior Monologue of One Hal Incandenza as He Sits through His Admissions Interview at the University of Arizona.

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies. My posture is consciously congruent to the shape of my hard chair.

I believe I appear neutral, maybe even pleasant, though I’ve been coached to err on the side of neutrality and not attempt what would feel to me like a pleasant expression or smile.

There is something vaguely digestive about the room’s odor.

There is a silence. My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it. I compose what I project will be seen as a smile. I turn this way and that, slightly, sort of directing the expression to everyone in the room.

There is a new silence. I do the safe thing, relaxing every muscle in my face, emptying out all expression. My silent response to the expectant silence begins to affect the air of the room.

The room’s carbonated silence is now hostile.

This is not working out. It strikes me that exit signs would look to a native speaker of Latin like red-lit signs that say HE leaves. I would yield to the urge to bolt for the door ahead of them if I could know that bolting for the door is what the men in this room would see.

I have been coached for this.

I have an intricate history. Experiences and feelings. I’m complex. ‘I read,’ I say. ‘I study and read. I bet I’ve read everything you’ve read. Don’t think I haven’t. I consume libraries. I wear out spines and ROM-drives. I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.” My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, I can tell, with due respect. But it transcends the mechanics. I’m not a machine. I feel and believe. I have opinions. Some of them are interesting. I could, if you’d let me, talk and talk. Let’s talk about anything.’

Part, the Second. In Which I Once Again Borrow the Words of One David Foster Wallace from His Behemoth of a Novel, Infinite Jest, and Offer Those Words as Advice and Encouragement to the Albert Einstein Academy Graduating Class of 2016.

Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you. What is unfair can be a stern but invaluable teacher. You can be shaped, or you can be broken. There is not much in between. Try to learn. Be coachable. Try to learn from everybody, especially those who fail. This is hard.

Loneliness is not a function of solitude.

You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. Certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.

Logical validity is not a guarantee of truth.

No matter how smart you thought you were, you are actually way less smart than that. You do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it.  Other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid. The cliche ‘I don’t know who I am’ unfortunately turns out to be more than a cliche.

It takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak.

It is simply more pleasant to be happy than to be pissed off. No single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable. That cockroaches can, up to a certain point, be lived with. That ‘acceptance’ is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.

That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it.

That God — unless you’re Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both — speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings, if there is a God. God might regard the issue of whether you believe there’s a God or not as fairly low on his/her/its list of things s/he/it’s interested in re you.

There might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.

So yo then man what’s your story?


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