Pimping Poetry



Def Poetry Jam is back-k-k-k.  HBO at midnight tonight in case you missed the promos.

Def Poetry Jam has brought poetry to the masses.  Hallelujah.  Now people don’t look at me with that glazed look like, “Damn, look at the way those snakes are dancing out of her head,” when I admit “I’m a poet.”  Thanks for that Russell Simmons.  You sure know how to pimp it; make it accessible and desirable. 
Trouble is desirable and accessible have a price.  Together they have bred a breed of miscreants like Boy Six.  (We’ll change the name to protect the not-so-innocent). 


His rap begins with a comment that she “looks like uh artist, po-it, or somethin’.”  Pumping the brakes, she comes to a full on stop when he commands, “So do a poem.”  Right there in the parking lot where he’s stopped to help her with her unwieldy packages—“Do a poem.”  Two problems: She’s not exactly sure how one “does a poem.”  And certainly he isn’t about to “discover” her, “sign her” to a phenomenal publishing deal, and the rest will be the history of  other artists.  Musical artists get discovered; models get discovered; poets get—well sometimes—published.It wasn’t for old boy, but the sad truth is that poetry might be one of the hippest raps going thanks to Russell’s strategic pimping.

Take the smoky club scene full of men in black berets with “Fuck the Establishment” attitudes and flip it a little.  The appeal was there because pop culture is always looking for something new.  And the youth that make up that culture, well, that’s the mantra of their youthfulness.

Enter Russell Simmons to make it desirable with a more diverse set of attitudes and accessible by broadcasting it on the daddy of all water cooler discussions: HBO. 
Poets grace the Def Poetry Jam stage and on a fairly regular basis, they do bring it.  Now the masses can see the secret that many of us have known for years.  That is, if they can look beyond the glitter of Def Poetry Jam that too often outshines the real gems in the crown.   
The glitter: the dimly lit poetry spots where the craft takes a stage left to the meat market club atmosphere where the look of the poet is more important than the substance of the poem.  The glitter: the poet with something to say taking backstage to the poet who says what the audience wants to hear.  The glitter: syntax acrobatics that just leave you tired and with no real workout.  The glitter: that of the millions of pens that hit pages every day, yours will be the golden one, the chosen one, the one that will afford you fame and fortune.The most famous poet I know is Maya Angelou and poetry, alone, isn’t what paid her or brought her fame.So, there are thorns in every rose, and really, is there any dream that’s not worth chasing?  I would quickly answer “no” to that.  Try to live like that.  A therapist says I must practice seeing beyond black and white.  Well here’s a go at it:In black, Def Poetry Jam has brought the power of the word to the masses.  It seems like we forget their power from time to time.  Contemporary song lyrics, the poetry of the masses, tell that story all too well.   In washed out white, Def Poetry Jam has taken the power of words and turned them into little more than a performance, an act that too many see as something tangible.   A rising hip hop artist handed me this rule on a mixed cd: Don’t just say your words, be your words.  Because in grey, Def Poetry Jam offers a dream worth dreaming.  That is, if you’re performing poetry, we can assume that you’re also performing the life that inspired its words.  Is Russell Simmons and his latest pop venture to blame for the glitter that’s taking the shine out of the words?  Not exactly.  Roots run deep and spread far.  And some of y’all are to blame—you’re just looking for a new hustle.  And desirable and accessible are the characteristics of a good one.  Yeah, the sad truth is that anytime you bring a product to the masses, they’re gonna find a way to hustle it.  And therefore corrupt it. 

Baking soda used to be for baking and those occasional muscle relaxing baths until some hustlers discovered it could help ‘em make crack. 



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