Rainbow Book Fair — March 26, 2011 — LGBT Center
The Third Annual Rainbow Book Fair took place March 26 on the third floor of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center and featured over 100 authors, publishers, booksellers and poets. As tables in an exhibition space offered volumes of gay literature, readings took place on the fourth floor and in an annex, which served as a poetry salon.
IPPY Award winner and Lambda Literary Award nominated author Rachel Kramer Bussel (above) curated the reading.
Authors Nell Stark (L) and Trinity Tam (R) read an uncommonly steamy passage from their lesbian vampire romance novel Everafter. (You can’t tell from this angelic photo, but what goes on in these ladies’ minds is pretty randy and cannot be published on AfterEllen. Naughty, naughty!)
NYC Poets Sam LaRoche (L) and Joanna Hoffman (R) reading at the Poetry Salon
I spoke to local poets Sam LaRoche and Joanna Hoffman about the poetry slam scene in NYC. A poetry slam is a competition at which poets read or recite original work, and these performances are then judged by a panel selected from members of the audience. Both LaRoche and Hoffman have been composing poems since early childhood. “I composed my first poem when I was four,” said Hoffman. Since college, both have been performing their work on stage.
Writing for the stage often takes a different form from writing for the page. “[T]o score well at most venues, you need to write poems that are easily accessible, that people don’t have to think too much to understand, that grabs them, moves them, inspires them, all in three minutes or less. As for the writing, yes, it is completely different. I have hundreds of poems I know I will never perform, but I will probably submit to journals,” said Hoffman. LaRoche added, “Spoken word poetry is meant to be powerful. You only have three minutes to really grab the audience. And three minutes attention span is all people usually have to grasp your concept.”
Poetry slams are designed to be interactive. Invented in the 1980s by a construction worker named Marc Smith who was disappointed with the passivity and disengagement of audience members at poetry readings, slams involve the audience in the outcome of the slam and encourage vocalization. “As a performer, there is nothing I hate more than a silent room,” said Hoffman. “The energy of the crowd ramps up the performance. Great audience members will snap when they like a line, or say stuff like ‘Word!’ ‘Whaaaaaat?’ and ‘Preach!’”
Each certified venue conducts poetry slams slightly differently, although typically five people in the audience are chosen and receive score cards. One of the main goals of competing at a local venue is to gain a spot on a slam team that competes nationwide. The slam venues in NYC are Louder Arts at Bar 13, Urbana at Bowery Poetry Club, Nuyorican at Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Intangibles at Lolita Bar. “NYC teams have a great reputation, have won nationals many times, and are almost always in the top five teams,” said Hoffman, who recently competed in the Women of the World national slam competition and placed 9th.
While some academic poets have criticized the numerical scoring of artistic expression and have gone as far as deriding slam as not a real art form, slam poets disagree. “The competitive nature of slam forces us to be better writers and performers,” said Hoffman.
LaRoche said that it’s only natural that queer people would be attracted to the poetry slam world. “It’s a safe haven to express yourself without feeling judged about who you are,” she said. “I think it makes sense for queer people to be attracted to slam and spoken word poetry. It’s a great outlet for everyone, if you ever felt something and wanted to share it out loud. Writing it down and getting up on a mic feels amazing. It’s like the best therapy minus the large bill.”
LaRoche’s work can be found at this link: http://www.youtube.com/user/LilSam11.
Hoffman’s work can be found at this link: www.joannahoffman.wordpress.com.