Out of Work Slam Poet

Friday, September 24, 2010

My job at the library is reading zines. For 8-9 hours per week, I am forced (forced!) to read and write up descriptions of zines from the 70s all the way through the present. And, unlike other mundane jobs, it actually makes me want to do many things - like roller derby, feminist activism, writing up a South Asian dictionary (not of a South Asian language), read a million books about lesbians and trans people and multi-racial people and black people and white people and Asian people...
But the most recent of my inspirations has been to write a slam poem. And actually perform it. Since most of the zines I have been reading are intensely personal and talk about their experiences through personal essay, fiction, and - obviously - poetry, it has made me wonder about expressing myself in that way once more.
But I feel like a lion that has lost its fangs. I have been wondering about where my rhythm went as of late. In high school, I was unafraid. I wrote whatever the hell I wanted to and somehow it worked. I would read it at Hugo House and feel some sparkly confidence after the audience started applauding. But somehow... after my high school graduation speech (which was, itself, a slam poem), I have felt that I've used up all the beats. I get anxious when thinking of the stage. I worry about what people will think and I worry about whether there's even a venue for my type of stuff.
I know that a lot of my fears are unfounded, but I feel like this post is a good starting point to work on it. There are a lot of things I want to say and I know that if I work on it, they'll fit. It's all a matter of time...
To make this a little more interesting, I'm going to post up my graduation speech slam. I wish I had a video of it... it must be out there somewhere!

Grad Slam
I had a crush in the eighth grade.

Thought we could be forever,
Through stormy Washington weather,
Through bad pop music and TV clich├ęs,
Through all the internet abbreviations – lol, rofl, omg – that became our new phase
Through all the cheesy movie musicals and awkward first days…
I was in love with high school.
And not Highland Middle School, no,
That place was a joke.
I was too old for the activity bus-riding, Yu-Gi-Oh gaming, Reflections-writing, D.A.R.E. abiding hoax that tried to tie our elementary days with all of the other grades.
Now that seems like light years away.
My love affair with high school lasted much longer than that.
9th grade wasn’t that cool.
High school and I were like buddies on AIM chat who thought we knew each other but were just strangers meeting for the first time.
He was a fan of Calvert 5 page essays and I was a fan of sleeping in on Saturdays.
Still, he tried to be nice;
Linked me up with a Crew to show off the new two-story school,
Taught me to bark at football games,
But as soon as we found the breakdown of senior, junior sophomore, and… us (the little freshmen with the whole maturity thing comin’ our way)
We stayed wrapped up in the insecurities – the awkward shuffle at tolo, the braces, eyeglasses, gym class miles and stuttering
The answers just trapped… on the tip of our tongues
Who wasn’t lost when they told us we’d eventually end up getting such strange diseases?
Like School Spirit, Spring Fever and Senioritis?
It was confusing enough even without all that MLA formatting. Uh, how do we cite this again?
But then it was sophomore year, and we had no time for any of these questions.

High school and I, we had some better dates back then.
Homecoming and its glossy thrill – the light rain and freezing temperatures on the field (we’d learned that the cheering was mostly for drill; high school wasn’t the best football player)
We were still kind of kids back then.
Joining our first AP classes and fancying ourselves little women and men
But it wasn’t so long ago when we wouldn’t have dreamed, wouldn’t have schemed
To skip classes or copy notes at the age of 15.
We were good kids, more or less.
But add on some stress and the morning math tables just couldn’t express
The interest of Halo and pointless internet quests
(Myspace and Youtube are guilty no less
Than our crazy parents who always wanted to test
Whether we could take on the WASL and Ms. Boness
Without our foreheads exploding and leaving a mess)
And high school and I? We learned how to argue.
My parents thought him a bad influence – taking the precious sleep I had left,
Dinner or vacation or even “conversation” all became things of the past,
I had no time to put together syllables and sentences; we were hermits studying for the next big exam… or tuned out in front of the television, trying to trip that final security switch and pass the next level without a hitch
There were shouting matches, indeed, but the sound of our yelling finally receded
AP World finally retreated
And the summer broke open that repeated desire that, at the time, very few knew.
College, that trickster, was about to ensue.

So when high school and I met again, as upperclassmen I knew where we’d been.
Now AP and IB would blend
Our mood swings and social deprivation – leave the fortunate ones laughing at our desperation
To spend hours and hours on school work and clubs
We begged and we pleaded, but the teachers’d say ‘tough’
As we filled that 24 hours with Millhollen’s math packets, an essay or two, a physics lab, a makeup test, some theater work, and then – maybe – some rest? Alas…
High school always wanted more – but I’d had enough.

To tell you the truth: I knew.
That those lyrical voices were about to ensue,
All the friends who came out of hibernation to advise,
That high school had been feeding more than a spoonful of lies;
He’d want me to work for him, and I’d said sure,
But now…
I didn’t know where we were.
He was the master at his own chess game,
Telling me to make a move, take another test, never rest,
Until the school year seemed like it was surely a jest – what kind of life was it when you were only a guest?
Barely staying overnight in your own bed and chained more often to that high-tech desk.
Finally, we asked for guidance, and here came the reply:
Just work for college, we were told, the almighty counselors and past seniors would preach;
Start early, don’t look back,
But at that time with high school, all we knew was the past.
So we were old soldiers before we knew it.
Battling down through a hallway of freshmen and spewing word vomit to complete the next oral presentation, the next essay, the next line of code, about to explode… then,
Then the dust cleared, June came, and we knew where we stood.
High school, remember when I came in saying, that I’d never catch senioritis?
Haha, well… it caught me.
It was the downward slide,
In a relationship that’d lost all it’s steam.
Now we relinquished our hold on the work we had done – essays weren’t exciting, in fact, neither was class. Seriously, we only had to pass. {}
We thought we could breathe when we were blessed with snow – no!
High school still drove us to work for the next moment, the next second counts,
But hey, procrastination felt all the sweeter,
When it was taken with a snowball fight and some hot cocoa.
Over the years, this little freshman girl had grown more rebellious,
Now, owing my ammunition,
To the armies from the pages of novels and violent video games,
The arsenal had built up to buck the Man, the system, in any way, shape, or form.
But our parents, well, they still threatened (or “asked”) us to toe the line.
So instead, we huddled up, put our fingers to keyboards, pen to paper, and applied ourselves into the future realm,
Of dorm rooms, sleepless nights, and foreign lands…
People we hadn’t known for years at a time and…
COLLEGE! It was on everyone’s lips like a delicious secret to be kept from high school at all costs; a tasty tidbit of the “real world” (if there ever was such a thing)
But we were careful to trip over our own tongues and mask our delight with knocks on wood and plenty of shaking – we still had tests to take after all.
We started counting on June 5th, which became June 22nd, which became only a few months, weeks, days away, until…
Graduation. The end game, crash-land paradise, that emptied us into the pool of a new summer, a new situation. Not just a vacation, but an escape from the ordinary – and who didn’t want that after so many years?
So here’s to celebrating the moments:
Prom on a warm night in Seattle – subjecting ourselves to an onslaught of photographic nostalgia, parents and faculty reminding us to “be safe” and “have fun”
The final minute of your final (last, latest, penultimate) final, finally come to meet you with a hoot and holler.
The crying/laughing hysterics of the going-away party, the roads all spreading out in front of you and your friends… but there’s an epilogue to the story that just has to end.
So, high school and I, we’ve gone our separate ways.
Our head-butt drag-out relationship just wasn’t going anywhere.
He wanted me to stay, but I had to leave,
The cramped hallways, 7 periods a day, claustrophobic 35 minute lunch – hey, I don’t know about you, but this dog just got too big for her cage.

Congratulations class of 2009, you’ve earned it! Have a great summer!

More poetry is also available for your perusal.