I spent about an hour on the phone with Christopher Lane discussing poetry and poetry politics. He's of the same mind that there is a deep division between Phoenix-based poetry scene and exo-Phoenix regions of Southern and Northern Arizona. This has been evident over the past few years as the Northern Arizona scene has grown from a monthly slam in Flagstaff run by a pack of exiles from Phoenix, Southern California, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Texas into strong local poetry movements in Flagstaff and Prescott and smaller ones in Sedona and around Arcosanti.
Other scenes I have visited all have dashes of their local color, politics, and drama, but there is a unique isolationist exclusivity in the Phoenix scene. It's pervasive in a lot of other mediums of art as far as I can tell, but poetry is obviously my concern.
Still, after all this time, Northern Arizona still seems more embracing than Phoenix. After slams and events in Flagstaff, almost without exception, poets and fans would congregate at one cheap restaurant or another and not discuss poetry, but just hang out. The same can not be said for Phoenix, with few exception.
Northern Arizona has a sense of community about it that Phoenix hasn't contained for me. There, I felt like a real contributing member of a group, but Phoenix is too big, too spread out, too disconnected for the same sensation. Despite never having lived there, I have felt more artistically connected to Sedona and Prescott and even Arcosanti than Phoenix and it's suburbs. Perhaps its the general facelessness of the city itself, or the permanently transient population, but I still feel like a permanent exile here. Even though I've spent 2/3 of my almost 3 years of slam in Phoenix, I'm still "Christopher Fox Graham from Flagstaff". I don't care about the title, but there is a mindset behind it.
Part of it is benefit; I like being on the fringes sometimes, but even when I want to be in a group or community, it feels like it's forced. Events, meetings, and gatherings down here quite honestly feel false or half-assembled, or are put together last minute, or the rules change at the last minute, and not everyone shows up, leaders included. Again, I'm sure part of that is the general layout of the city and the sheer size of it. But bottom line, in Prescott and Flagstaff, when an event goes down, everyone shows. That's very reassuring when trying to build a community.
I guess it comes down to the fact that if one missed an event or a gathering, one truly felt missed. I've never felt missed in Phoenix.
I'm not asking for a ego-boosting rock-star worship; who gives a fuck? I hate that shit anyway, it makes me uncomfortable when some audience member compliments my work, then stands there. I never know what to say. If you like it, applaud, buy a book (if I'm selling one), come to the next event, and go home and write something, dammit.
There should be no special treatment; just fair treatment.
There's a different mood in Northern Arizona too. A certain independence, even from the past or other factors. Last time Josh Fleming and I slammed in Prescott and Host and Slam Master Dan Seaman was announcing future events, he mentioned Keith Breucker and David Escobedo as members of Save the Male, but not Josh and I to avoid influencing the judges. I was told that Danny Solis came to the Arcosanti Slam hoping to be on Brandy Lintecum's Phoenix team but Dan Seaman denied him because Danny Solis wasn't from Arizona. It wasn't malicious; it was the rules. He invited him to calibrate but not compete. As long as I've known him, Dan Seaman has always supported the arts but both stuck to his guns and his rules. Danny Solis may be good and have been an "Old Guard" Slammer but he wasn't from Arizona, end of story, that's the rule. Other SlamMasters in Arizona haven't been as fair to their own rules nor as unbiased, most notably Brandy Lintecum and to a point Nick Fox. As such, I have a deep respect for Dan Seaman. Likewise, Christopher Lane doesn't offer any special treatment of the poets at his slams.
Northern Arizonan audiences, poets included, also seemed happy to have poets read. There's a desire to swallow the out-of-towners, whether touring or not, that Phoenix doesn't have.
Most unsettling is that there seems to be an underlying contempt for exo-Phoenix art scenes on both a scene-wide and individual level, as though Northern Arizona and Tucson is the boonies when them local-yokels fuck cousins, don't bathe, and write poetry on the side. But Phoenix isn't Rome and I've seen some great work come those scenes. Maybe it's the youth of their scenes that makes them so inclusive. I don't see any of that "Old Guard" mentality up north that I seen in Phoenix. Northern Arizona poets also see slam as more of a game. I always do. But at slams in Prescott and Flagstaff, I've never had to plan a strategy; winning didn't really matter. You were just happy to have a captive audience. But in Phoenix and Mesa (or Sedona and Arcosanti wherein Phoenix poets were included) there's a desire to win that outweighs the game. Slam is verbal chess, not WWII. It's a joke and a crapshoot. In a sport where we pick 5 random people who've never seen spoken word before, how can anyone take a slam seriously?
I think it's more of a challenge to write something well and perform it well and have a good time doing it. I like the brutality of a tight cutthroat bout, but it's nice to read at a slam and have other poets critique or compliment someone's work as though it's admirable. It just feels good to have an audience, especially peers, pay attention to one's work.
Perhaps its the legacy of Eirean Bradley still in the veins or something deeper. Who knows?
But when someone asks what scene I hail from, I don't say Mesa or Phoenix or even Tempe. Usually, I just say "Arizona" because none of the other titles fit.
This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 670,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.