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, September 17, 2003

My First of Many Kat Sanford Love Ballads

Sedona was great. I rolled up north with my ever-present hetro-companion KuK and his friend Kevin. Now Kevin and I have had a unique relationship. He and KuK were friends long before I met the boy and on the first night I met Kevin, we got incredibly drunk at a bar and I hit on his wife. With good reason, he wanted to kick my ass, but as time passed, he came to realize that I'm just a drunken moron, not a moral-less pervert.

In any case, we rolled up to Humbolt, Arizona, just outside Dewey, Arizona, which is outside of Middle-of-fucking-nowhere to visit KuK's mom. She is delightfully crazy and no longer on her meds. Crazy, but in a fun way.

We went to the swimming hole on Oak Creek.

Karega from Houston, Texas was the feature. His performance was off, and he had to restart a few times, but his material was good. The audience adored him.

The slam was long but good. By pure fate, three of the four weakest poets went first and were cut after round one. Scores were all over the place. In round one, some scores were as low as 4.5 but there were some 10s. Craziness.

Rounds 1 and 2 were cumulative; round 3 was a fresh slate.

There is an Honour mystique I try to live by. There are 3 types of slam poets:
Virgins (i.e., "I've just written my first poem, now I must slam it. I say 'goddess' 'thee' 'thou' 'faith' and 'love' 90 times." Often these poets don’t come back because they’re blown their life’s load in a single shot.)
Regulars (i.e., "I slam on occasion because it’s Tuesday and I’m here. I write a little. They often do well in a single venue, rarely venture out, and sometimes get features here and there.”) Regulars have a job and write poetry on the side.
Stars (i.e., Member of National Team, tour regularly, travel to other venues, sometimes states away. Can feature anywhere, have big repertoires, chapbooks, and network on the national level.) Conversely, all stars write poetry and have a job on the side.
All poets started at the bottom and all have the potential to rise, if they work hard. In a perfect world, all Stars have an equal shot to beat each other in a fair slam, and all Stars beat all Regulars, etc.

David Luben from Prescott had told me before the slam (quote), "I can't believe I'm on the same stage as Christopher Fox Graham. I'm honored. I've be listening to your CD for months." Now that threw me. A compliment that also doubled as veiled self-doubt about his work, which is great, by the way. His humility was honest, but now I was bound by my Honour to beat him.

Additionally, from Flagstaff was Aaron Johnson, whom I had judged in a Speech and Debate tournament in Glendale. I introduced myself to him erroneously thinking we’d never met, then he told me I gave him a low score in his S&D round, but my comments were good. He’s buddies with Tony D, and has a performance style reminiscent of Tony D and Nick Fox, though not as good as either. Many Speech and Debate poets are comfortable with the highly stylized performance style they’re taught. Once they break from that, like Josh Fleming and David f. Escobedo have, and as Tony D is beginning to, they become comfortable in their own skin, they seem more natural and most honest. Their writing becomes more natural and most honest too. So both these boys put me in a position of 'slam authority' in one fashion or another. So this wasn’t just a fun “let’s do whatever” slam. My reputation as a good slam poet was on the line. You can't get beat by a protégé on your first battle. It ruins the Honour mystique.

I had eight pieces I was fiddling with through the whole first round, planning my strategy. Humor was doing okay, but then one poet's humor poem about a family reunion tanked and threw me off. Jessica XXX from Prescott/Arcosanti did a serious poem and scored high, and young David Luben from Prescott did a humorously ironic piece about not wanting to sleep with fat women, instead preferring anorexic model types. Being a bigger guy, the piece was powerfully ironic, then got serious at the end. He scored a well-deserved 29.0 and was in first.

So I had to meet or beat his 29.0. I was lucky enough to go last so I had 13 poet performances before me to base my choice on. At that point, I had whittled my eight poems down to five to select. In the end, I went serious with a poem I’ve never slammed north of Anthem. I picked it because of the four, it had the most ‘you-must-pay-attention-to-this-line’ lines. One of those pieces where every line is interesting and poetic and has no fluff or filler building to some great final line or idea. I too scored a 29.0 and tied for first.

I shook hands and made pleasantries with all the poets whose work I liked, which was almost everyone on stage. David Luben and I, now broken-in congratulated each other. We both knew that we were the top gunners in the round and the battle was between us. Like two equal champions of rival armies, and both aware of the Honour code. No holds barred in round two.

Because round two technically didn’t matter at this point, because the dramatic variation in scores meant I could score as low as a 25 and if everyone else pulled a 30, I’d still make round 3. So I could afford some risk.

Ten minutes before the slam, I wrote perhaps the silliest, stupidest, funniest poem. This was my round two piece. Scores were higher and the mood was tenser. So I pulled out this poem and scored a 30.0 Perfect score on a ten-minute-old poem giving me the top score in round two. Jesus H. Christ.

Suzy La Follette cleansed our palate between rounds.

Round three, all guns came out. Jessica XXX went first and pulled a 29.8 with a piece about appearance. Shit, she set the bar. The next three poets didn’t even come close, and David Luben’s poem also scored well beneath this. His piece was good, but he had other works to pull from that could have taken the round. It was a risk that didn’t make it.

I went 5th of 6th and slammed with another new poem, though I had written it two days before. I was still writing parts through rounds one and two. I thought it went too long, but was under the mark, and took a lot out of me. One of those ‘I-will-collapse-when-I-sit-down’ poems. I wasn’t looking too seriously at scores and thought I only scored a 29.7 (10, 10, 10, 9.7, and a 5th score). I felt great about the slam and could tell I touched a lot of people in the audience. I could feel the emotion reverberating back to me during that poem. But I figured I took 2nd, so I listened to the last poet Rebekah Crisp finish the round with all the pressure off. Turns out that 5th score was actually a 9.9 meaning I won by 0.1.

Christopher Lane offered a victory poem, but I couldn’t top my round two and three poems that night, so I offered it to Karega who did his best piece of the night.

After the slam, this irritation a blue beret caught me before I could take to this cute girl I had seen in the back of the audience. I couldn’t break away and watched her pass by three times. By the time I could negotiate a smooth way out of this verbal trap, she was gone and my heart was broken. Dammit!

We headed back to Christopher Lane’s for bonfire and conversation. Almost all the slammers were there, but I ducked out to talk to Akasha, Lane’s amazing fiancé. Eventually Christopher Lane, Suzy La Follette, and Karega were inside the trailer talking poetry, poetic theory, and audience reaction while the other slammers were around the bonfire.

Only Kevin, KuK, Jessica XXX and I spent the night, all curled up the trampoline, so by morning, we had all slid together. Tight quarters.

The four of us went to breakfast (Akasha and Lane went to work at dawn), then went to the swimming hole. Cold as fuck. Back at Lane’s, we went down to the creek, hopped on rocks, crashed and then got thrown out of a wedding reception by the father of the bride. Fun, fun.

I wish Katie Wirsing had been there though.

Yesterday, KuK and I snuck into Harkins and went theater-hopping again.
Once Upon A Time in Mexico. Sucked. They tried too hard to complicate the plot and just seemed like a dry fuck with mariachi music. Just go see Desperado again.
Matchstick Men. Nicholas Cage is fun to watch ‘cause he has the character down. Con movie with a double con that we saw coming about halfway through. Worth the $6.50 (if you pay it).
S.W.A.T. Cop flick. Action flick. Formulaic plot. Character actors:
Young hot shot with chip on his shoulder
Badass, streetwise chick
Family man who gets shot
Greedy cop who turns traitor for the money
Token Black buddy
Go it alone leader who rival his boss but knows his team rocks.
As long as you’re not expecting anything new or innovative, it’s not a bad movie though. Also worth the $6.50 if you pay it.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

They Held Hands

On a commonplace Tuesday morning,
not unlike that Sunday morning
60 years before, destined for infamy
they held hands as they fell

It was a working Tuesday
a date on the calendar
a morning like the morning before
but now they found themselves
standing on the window sill
of the 92nd floor
overlooking the city
and they felt weightless

They were not thinking
about the cause-and-effect history
of textbooks and CNN sound bytes
they weren’t debating the geopolitical ramifications leading up to that morning
he had decaf
she had a bearclaw and an espresso
and they talked about Will & Grace

jets impregnated buildings with infernos
and now the fire was burning
and the smoke was rising
and it was getting hard to breathe
even after they smashed the window out
the inferno was swelling
it had reached their floor
their stairwells were gone
and the options now
were to burn
or to fall

when the human animal realizes death is inevitable
psychologists say we want control
over those final moments
choosing suicide over surrender is a healthy reaction
because we choose to accept annihilation
rather than letting it choose us

So on one side
is unbearable heat
roaring flames
acrid smoke
and screams of the suffering
On the other side
fresh air
suicide is the final act of free will
that keeps the consciousness intact
even as it is destroyed

but they were not thinking about psychology
they were not thinking about terrorism
the debate about responsibility,
wars, flags, and Patriot Acts
can wait until September 12th
this morning belongs to them
because they did not have a tomorrow
the true terror of that morning
is to know what they were thinking
as they decided then whether
to burn
or to fall
now, imagine having that conversation
with the stranger
sitting next to you:
The barricade at the door is on fire
the extinguisher is empty
we are blinded by the smoke
and on the windowsill of the 92nd floor
we wait until flames lick our clothes
before we lean forward
and choose that moment to fall
others who fell were scrambling
or screaming or on fire
but we held hands as we fell

survivors of falls from extreme heights report
that falls are slow-motion transcendence
and the experience is almost “mystical”

I don’t know if they felt “mystical”
I know it takes
1 …
2 …
3 …
4 …
5 …
6 …
7 …
8.54 seconds to fall 1,144 feet

just enough time to say a prayer
or regret a memory
or ask forgiveness
or say goodbye
or wonder how the sky can be so perfectly blue
on such a beautiful morning