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 423,000 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.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Poetry in Arizona

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.

Go figure.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Sedona All-Star Slam II review

Prologue


I drove to Sedona on Friday with my friend Michael Kukuruga and his girl, Nikki. If I had a Tyler Durdan, Kuk would be he. We can say more without saying a word and we've been through a lot of similar experiences. We both know what it's like to sleep in Tempe Jail, for instance.

We drove up in Nikki's car while I read "Fast Food Nation" and Kuk read my chapbook "I've Seen You Naked". We rolled into town around 13:00, got something to eat from the organic market next to the Canyon Moon Theater and then hit the kitchy part of Sedona to molest statues and offend tourists. After parking illegally, then sneaking through a hotel lobby to avoid getting towed, we hit the street.

America, I love you, you capitalist whore


If you have to debate whether or not to shoplift in every store, does that make you a bad person? I'm talking every store.

Kuk and I wandered from store to store, place to place, making small talk with the locals and the tourists while Nikki followed with a camera in hand. Among other things, Kuk dry-humped a bronze statue and made out with a cigar-store Indian. We played a Kuk'd eye game that everyone wants to play but none have defined, till now. Pass by that girl you've been checking out, slowly. Then glance at her. (We all do that glancing thing wherein we look a someone but we don't want them to think we're looking, so we look around and "happen" to see someone. Milk it.) Wait until she "glances" at you, then catch her with a "gotcha" or "I won", then move on.

Main Event


We met the poets at the Red Planet then headed to the venue. They included from Las Vegas/Flagstaff Andy "War" Hall, from Sedona: Jarrod Karimi and Rebekah Crisp, from Flagstaff: Logan Phillips, Dom Flemons, Suzy La Follette, and SlamMaster John R Kofonow, from Mesa: Tony Damico, Corbet Dean, Julie Ann Elefante, Taneka Stotts, and Jonathan Standifird, from Albuquerque, SlamMaster Danny Solis and Kenn Rodriguez, and from Tempe, Christopher Fox Graham. Our Host was my good friend Christopher Lane. Also up but not competing was Halcyone whom Kuk spent all of dinner hitting on in some crazed attempt at a threesome. Ah Kuk, sigh.

Then the battle began. It was harsh for Julie Elefante who had to lead the first round. Despite an over the top performance that landed him sprawled out on the ground, Dom Flemons didn't make it to round two. Rebekah Crisp, I think, had no idea what to expect and Jarrod Karimi pulled a wrong piece at the wrong time. He made it as the dark horse alternate for Flagstaff in 2002 doing freestyle but picked a poem that was just too short for this bout. He has a poem "She is a Cactus Flower" that is brilliant and would been gold. Little John R Kofonow had the most inventive poem of the night, about the tortoise and the hare, but it was too unrehearsed and still on page. It was good to hear him read again, and do so happily. I still regret the way he felt in Vegas in 2002 when the relatively unresponsive crowd at the Cafe Roma dampened his spirits. I still think he's a great kid. Danny Solis also got knocked out early. "Fat Man" was too subdued for a first round poem and he went too early in the round. Jonathon Standifird did a great piece, but the audience for some reason was not receptive. Their loss.

Suzy La Follette's poem for Christopher Lane's fiance Akasha, was brilliant and I was praying to follow and target her (Suzy) with "She Needs it Bad", but I was wary after the tongue-lashing I got from last time. But Kenn Rodriguez followed her. I had a number of poems prepped for the first round but Logan Phillips's Night Poem left me without a real clue of what to do and I selected my first poem while at the mic. Andy Hall is insane and I love him. Round two left nine poets. Brief Intermission.

That being said, ROUND TWO: EVERYBODY DIES (I had to keep from laughing when I thought that on stage). Have a someone you want to kill? Do it in Round Two. All in all, I think we had a five-year-old, a five-year-old's mother, a high-school friend, and someone's father bite the dust in round two. Even Andy Hall brought a downer. Thank GOD for Tony D. I think we all moved the audience and even I was moved by some of the performances by the other poets, but from a cynical, critical point of view.... The Klute's piece about killing imaginary friends for the sake of slam would have gone over well, despite the true sincerity of all the poets.

Round Three left just six. Suzy La Follette and Tony D Score 30s. In the end deciding between three pieces, I pulled "Coming Home" and scored a 29.9. This was apart of the cosmic reason from two posts ago.... I managed to sink the intensity and the humor into one of the best performances I think I've ever done of that piece. Rounding the night was Suzy La Follette, Corbet Dean, and Christopher Fox Graham in 1st, 2nd, & 3rd respectively.

The whole night was a beautiful crapshoot, and I remember leaning over to John R Kofonow as the wave of 9.0+ score took over in round two. The whole night was a bit high as the difference between Suzy La Follette and myself was only 0.5. With lower scores throughout the night, things would have fared differently.

Epilogue


On the long drive home, Nikki slept in the back seat. She had originally planned on coming to Sedona to interview for a job at a camp after a brief stint in Florence, Italy this summer. The Slam was just a happy diversion after the interview. She scored the job.

Kuk and I talked strategy and I swear, it was like the kid had been watching slam for years, rather than this being his first slam. An hour of debate and analysis with someone who is as skilled at the verbal chess as I am. I miss having a true game-player in slam. Someone who sees the whole thing like one big fencing bout. I hadn't felt that engaged about tactics since Nationals. Why doesn't he write?

By the way, I now have internet access at home. Yay me.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Y'all Know What It's About

I feel great about the Slam off last night. I did perhaps the best renditions of three poems I really feel are strong, solid pieces.

Round One Manifesto of an Addict

I had thought about doing English Major, because humor goes over well at Essenza, but general slam-offs that I've seen, humor takes a back seat to serious poems. Going so early in the round, after David Tabor's humor piece got low scores, I figured it was a lock. If I had seen how the night was going to turn out, I might have save it for a later round and done English Major, for a quick high score. Bottomline, Manifesto of an Addict was an top-notch performance, but bad strategy.
I hadn't done the piece since tour and one fluke drunk slam at Essenza in December. I don't think I can break it out in a hard-core competition again because it doesn't soun right as a solo poem.

Round Two He Needs it Bad

Target: Corbet Dean. Maybe a bad idea (especially if I knew his sister and mother were in the audience). I didn't want to early again for the rest of the slam, yet there I was first in round two. Good performance, great laughs, but the rule of score creep levels all. If Corbet and I carpool to Sedona next week for the slam, I may not make it back....

Round Three This Poem Has a Secret Title (sic)

I had a toss up between English Major, Bookstore Dreams and , This Poem Has a Secret Title. In the end, I wanted to do the poem I had always wanted to read in Arizona. I wrote this poem in downtown Manhattan the night I and my Save the Male Tour featured in the Nuyorican's Poet Cafe, June 21st 2002. It felt great to read it and get it off my chest, and I thought the beauty of it outweighed any score, high or low. By that point, 4th was a distant goal, only if Regina and Jon Standifird got time penalties and I were to get an unbelievably high score. Bottomline: my best piece of the night and the one I felt most proud of. It's deeply personal, with good reason, and the real title and inspiration is known by only a select few....

SIDELINE COMMENTARY
Round One
Score Creep is mother-fucker. David Tabor and Julie Elefante took the brunt of it. I got a bad piece too, and the real scores didn't start flying until Regina Blakely read.

Round Two
[info]theklute was genius. I love that anti-slam slam poem. I hope he does it a Nationals, hopefully, in the early rounds to pre-empt and drop-kick the other teams.
David Tabor got raped on scores.

Round Three
The only slot really up for grabs was 4th. Alternate was also eligible, but that fourth slot was the only target for the 5 of us who weren't already assured. I think Regina Blakely rightly snagged it because she brought out a crowd-pleaser. No foul. The four of us who did not make the cut read what we felt and did an kick-ass, true-to-heart reading.

Overall

#1 One of the single best slams I've seen outside of a National team bout. Maybe Flagstaff 2001 was better, despite the venue, a slam I saw on tour at the Cantab where all 20+ poets were spectacular. I guess, with some reservation, that the point system does work.

#2 Cutting to 8 after round two was a bad, bad, bad idea. Everyone who slammed last night deserved to read three times, even if they had no shot at the team after round two. Everyone worked on three poems and being unable to read them was a harsh, bad idea. I disagree strongly with the decision to cut. This isn't Urbana, nor is it Boston. We read because we love to, not because we're cutthroat about points. There were no tears last night (except during poems) and no screaming and yelling afterwards. There was good blood among us all so that decision, again, was a serious flaw to the fairness of the sport. [Off my soapbox and stand to the left].

#3 Any one of the 11 of us deserved to be on that team. What it came down to was slot-pulls, the ever-permanent crap-shoot that are judges, and a few shitty scores.

#4 There is a cosmic reason I didn't make the team. Other forces were at work. Call me a crazy Pisces, but I all I know is what I know, if you know what I mean.

#5 Yay, Slam. You cruel, beautiful bitch, you. It's the only chess match artists have.