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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Slam Tutorial: Before I Start this Poem ... I'll Read You the Title

Before I Start this Poem, I'll Read You the Poem

This "sneaky" tactic takes advantage of the sometimes irritating habit of reading a disclaimer before reading a poem. However, the disclaimer winds up being the poem itself. This is sometimes used very briefly as a hook, as in "Before I start this poem / I'll like to say that the first three lines / you won't think are the poem / but by line four you know I've started"

This strategy has several species:

Before I Start this Poem ... I'll Read You the Title
This poem, inspired by one by former Arizona poet Scott Huntington Gamble, essentially has a romantic and fanciful disclaimer, although masked, which pivots on the hook "that was just the title / this is the poem."

"The Cost of Dynamite"
By Christopher Fox Graham

magic lurks in her shrouded shoulders
that only her few lovers have tasted
although scores claim her lips hold her enchantments
I've been touched by neither,
though her temptations keep me up at night
in the half-conscious imaginings
of our skin dances
her limbs have teased her proximity
and her anticipatory warmth
enlivens our thighs

caged horses feel this way
when they see open fields beyond the fences
but words like these
hungrily dripping ink on untouched pages
are best hidden on the unread bookshelves
lest they betray the thousand sins
we would visit on each other
should the skies ever see them

and to Dante,
who cataloged all our predecessors,
Virgil neglected to reveal the 10th level of Dis
reserved solely for the lustful un-inhibitions
destined to be enumerated in epic detail
by some future poet,
about the nights when she and I
unlock the inevitable collision of hips and skins

evangelical preachers will base sermons on our rhythms
to terrify parishioners toward good behavior
expect presidential campaigns to stump legislation
to combat the passions we would release
and slam poets to spit verses
in pale comparison to the erotic hip-hop hips
of our beat-box breathing

sinners have their new saints
and Screwtape has new letters
to write to Our Father Below

when our moment comes,
expect the fire department
and the local police
to secure the scene
while Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt
thumb wrestle to the death
to secure the rights
prognosticators and prophets will claim
they saw the end coming in our coming
in poetry critics will cite this poem
claiming it a talentless rehash
of all slam poem to have come before

while my reply is simply
that those who must rely on these words
have yet to hear the earthquakes
when she lets loose her inhibitions
to her anticipations
and takes me along for the ride
rocking her hips to the stories
held between her shoulders

dreamers, you have heard us
in all your aimless wanderings
wondering how you could've lived your lives
before you knew of the chemistry
between skins locked
in the exasperated expression
of all that is holy

we are dying, but in our echo
the pageantries of our passions
will spill forth into the divine archetypes
to rebuild a new civilization as yet unimagined

that was just the title,
this is the poem:

in the lonely nights like these,
I wait for a lover I've never kissed
imagining that all these years of waiting for a meaningful lover
aren't in vain
my fear is to look back in old age
knowing that when the time was right
I'd let her slip away into the history and memory
too fearful of giving into the game we played:
always aiming for a checkmate
and afraid to lose I’ll play too harsh
she'll step back from the board
leaving my pieces in forever-stalemate with the absence,
seeking someone less serious and self-absorbed

if one of us can’t win the teasing test
of how far we can push the bounds
then these days and calculations
aren't worth the weight of numbers we measure

and lofty words aside,
I want to drift to sleep alongside her
in awake unashamedly unalone,
the way all great poets seem to do

but I'm too old to write about longing anymore
my poems of unrequited lovers
could kill passersby if dropped from high stories
yearning has its limits
and the ones that should plague my pages
would be best concluded with
“she's come again”

my words and would be better spilled
recounting ways to enumerate nuances
so that thousands could learn them
but so that they wouldn't forget the value of lonely moments
and if some student should find them in years hence
know that longing pains only focus so far
in the prophetic knowledge
that there is a light beaconing the end
I’d rather spend my days penning trivial sonnets at her side
then scribbling the epic of the ages in a studio apartment
made for one

illiteracy is inevitable and in time
all our silly words will become old,
understandable only in classes where academics
teach the ancient tongues of Aristotle and Chaucer

no poem retains its immediacy
when the poet is ash
but descendents can carry the fire
in their blood through the ages
long after the poem is obsolete
and its author is a grad school essay question
in her embrace its locks on
as if to a sinking ship’s life raft,
pen and paper yards away
the greatest poems of my fingers
will dance in her skin
and those that may find their way
through the sheets
to the floor
to the pages
they’ll merely echo those moments
when we erased our knowledge
of spelling and consonants
instead relying on vowels and the language of skins
to speak for us

these verses would I rather have annotate my days
in the press of her breath
and our secret words
would publish the best of me
while all the rest
can take the place when the moment suits
and the critics push aside their trivial jealousies
of not being born poetic
to pencil in a few pages
of their doctoral thesis

for them but me insert bits of profanity
a wayward curse
a gratuitous “fuck”
so they don't choose this piece
for its nonoffensive cleanliness
a well-placed “ass” can ruin a safe poem from publication
pun intended

these poems aren't for them anyway
they're just the thoughts of a boy
close enough to touch her
yet far enough away
to measure her distance from him
in multiples of the length of her shadow
and the geography of heartbeats and unspoken words
erects mountains between us
and the cost of dynamite
is bleeding my pockets dry

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