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.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"For My Melanin...And Michael Jackson's Too" by Jessica Guadarrama

Jessica Guadarrama performed this last night at the Sedona Poetry Slam at Studio Live.

Jessica Guadarrama is a bilingual Mexican American. She started writing in eighth grade but it wasn't until ninth grade that she discovered slam poetry when NORAZ Poets did a slam in the Sedona Red Rock High School's auditorium.
Her soul has been captured since then and she asks anyone that knows of its whereabouts to please come and let her know.

For My Melanin ... And Michael Jackson's, Too
By Jessica Guadarrama

They assumed you were ashamed of your dark skin,
enough to want to become a white man
But I’ve known better, Michael
I know the true story behind your white glove,
although America still hasn’t figured it out
Every Halloween, people continue to retrieve their own white gloves
from the depths of their drawers for one night
to mimic what they still think
was just another one of your successful fashion statements
Kind of ironic that they mimic what they criticized you for
They don’t realize that glove was a sanctuary for your skin,
a five fingered temple where you could refuge the choices
made by your own genetic makeup,
choices completely out of your control
But I’ve known better, Michael
there was a time in high school when I tried the same thing
For a few weeks during my sophomore year I wore black gloves
but that brought more attention to my hands than anticipated
and one teacher even asked me once
“What are you, Michael Jackson?”
I wanted to say “No I’m not
but I feel how he must’ve felt
when people like you asked him stupid questions”
I didn’t feel beautiful that day, Michael
and I still don’t
It doesn’t help when people bring it to my attention
that I have what they think is chocolate around my mouth,
or mud smeared on my face,
or red dirt smeared on my face,
or when they think I was in some kind of tragic accident
that involved acid burning my face
These are all true statements
Michael, I wonder how many corporate fucks
were behind your ultimate decision to opt for de-pigmentation
because it would be better for your career,
even if what they really meant was
it would be better for their careers
When you became completely white
and looked back at little kid pictures of yourself,
did you feel like you lost a child more so than having lost your childhood?
I understand that feeling Michael
I have all these pictures of a brown little girl
that I don’t recognize as myself
But I’m trying to stay positive, Michael
Just like your music broke racial barriers,
sometimes I like to think my skin breaks racial barriers too
I am both Mexican and American
You were both Black and White
Our skin colors combined are the epitome of racial unity
You used to say “It don’t matter if you’re black or white”
Now I’m saying “It don’t matter if you’re black or white
or a multiple of colors at one time”
They say your music broke racial barriers
but some of the people that said that
can’t seem to get over how you were naturally born a black baby
and decided to die a white man
But I’ve known better, Michael
I have felt your pain and you were beautiful to me
I’ve known better
Just look at my face
The brown parts make me look
like a Rorschach inkblot test
and I’m no psychologist
but please tell me,
what do you see when you look at me?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Get your tickets for the Sedona Poetry Slam

Get your tickets for the Sedona Poetry Slam

Get your tickets now for the the Sedona Poetry Slam, held this Saturday, June 27, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Twelve poets will compete on three teams pouring out their hearts, artistic skills, and personal passion, merely for your amusement.

They hope to change your life in three short minutes, but will also attempt to make you bust a gut laughing, tug at your heartstrings, entertain your love of language, or remind you of an experience you’ve lost. Either way, you will leave the slam with at least one new reason to love spoken word.

Proceeds benefit the Flagstaff National Poetry Slam Team, helping five young poets get to the National Poetry Slam in West Palm Beach, Fla., in August.

Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door, available at Golden Word Books & Music, 1575 West Hwy. 89A, 1-800-248-4405.
Studio Live is located at 215 Coffee Pot Drive, Sedona. For more information, visit, call Christopher Fox Graham at 928-517-1400 or Jennifer Reddington at 928-821-2694.

What is the Sedona Poetry Slam for?

Beginning at 7:30 p.m., four of the five members of the 2009 Flagstaff National Poetry Slam Team will compete against other top poets from around the state in three teams of four poets each. Proceeds from the poetry slam bout will help send the Flagstaff team to the National Poetry Slam, held this year in West Palm Beach, Fla., Aug. 4 to 8.

The team will represent Northern Arizona against more than 80 other teams from around the country.

Since it was founded in 2001, the Flagstaff National Poetry Slam Team has served as the common banner for all Northern Arizona poets at the National Poetry Slam.

Flagstaff National Poetry Slam Team

Poets from Sedona, the Village of Oak Creek, Cottonwood and Camp Verde have routinely made the trek up the hill to compete in Flagstaff. Likewise, Flagstaff poets often bring theirspoken word talents to Sedona audiences. Several Sedona poets have also been members of the Flagstaff team in past years.

This year, Jessica Guadarrama continues that proud tradition. Guadarrama is a Sedona Red Rock High School alumna and current Northern Arizona University student.
She is joined on the team by poets Frank O’Brien, Ryan Brown, Antranormus and John Cartier.

Frank O’Brien is a 20-year-old Coconino Community College student, focusing on pre-nursing. Originally from Phoenix, O’Brien entered the slam poetry scene in fall 2007. As a member of the 2008 Flagstaff team, he traveled with Cartier, Brown and Guadarrama to Nationals held in Madison, Wis.
O’Brien is now an active poet and administrator of the FlagSlam Poetry Slam.

Ryan Brown stated that he is a kid from Phoenix who spends most of his time posing as a writer and poet. He now goes to school and lives in Flagstaff, where he is the SlamMaster of the FlagSlam Poetry Slam.
Writing mainly about love and the true impact that it can have on the world, Brown stated that he enjoys baseball cards, cheap candy, and eating his girlfriend's cooking.

Antranormus is a hip-hop artist who constantly seeks to redefine or completely blur the boundaries between hip-hop, poetry and absurdity.
Known for his complex, multisyllabic rhyme schemes and controversial subject matter, Antranormus has shared the stage with members of Wu Tang Clan, Jurassic 5, solo artists Abstract Rude, Illogic, Sole and others.

Their Flagstaff foes

The Flagstaff team will face off against a second team of Flagstaff poets including Kami Michel, Andrew Michel, Maple Dewleaf and Garrett Lackner

Their Sedona foes

The Sedona poets include MC Fun Yung Moon, Aaron Levy, Than Ponvert and Kayt Perlman.

“When i'm in my proper element call me "fun yung" one tongue to bring the song that might've gone unsung one son sprung from the sun never leave the job undone fun one, love is forever in, i'm reverend, revellin', and relevant and i'm reverant, i'm severin' the devil in half, i have to laugh i can't help it, i'm just a addict, gotta nasty habit, i gots to have it. well what am i supposed to do man? i got no new slang just my du-lang, du-lang, du-lang, and i can see you and your crew hang lookin' for the pu-tang with the wu-tang in the tape deck, but have you figured out your own fate yet? you need fatih, know when to chill, i got will power though no will, no trust fund, used to trust none now i trust one, just fun, thrust upon the world lust none, just run hand me a mic and watch me bust one it goes: f-u-n-y-u-n-g 'cuz i still think there's a place for me, and just maybe i departed a little bit too hastily, and plus the only way to be in time and space is free. f-u-n-y-u-n-g, 'cuz i still think there's a place for me, plus all these party people keep on chasin' me, and i think it only right to keep showin' them ways to see...

--from "admit one" off of "liberation theology"

Aaron Levy is an anarchist who believes that the capitalist fairy tale is killing us all. What's great is that it seems to be killing itself right now. Levy loves a great deal but I have no room in his life for dogmatic and destructive religions that are destroying this world through patriarchal heterosexist privilege constructs.

Just in from southern Vermont, Kayt Perlman aka Kayt Pearl, has recently relocated to Sedona with a deep sigh of relief. The north is cold. Co-founder of Women Divine Acapella & Rhyme, a traveling collaborative installment of all-women expression; founder of Sound Foundation, an organization/movement for universal connection and cross-cultural understanding through word and sound; northeastern regional slam poetess and co-master and founder of Martial Poetry Slams, the local slam scene in Brattleboro, Vt., local vocal-ess singer/songwriter and otherwise unknown human just trying to commun-i-kayt with the rest of us.

Perlman has been part of several different bands and musical acts over the last 10 years. Mostly performing in the Northeast, she uses spoken word and song, with the help of guitar, and other sound acoustics, to get her point across. She was the singer for "Off the Hip" - a fusion-house band playing funk/tribal beats/r&b and world music for Stratton Ski Resort's Red Fox Inn.

Than Povert is a student at Sedona Red Rock High School, following in the poetic footsteps of his predecessors Jessica Guardarrama, David Ward and Jordan Boner.

Ponvert most recently competed at the Old Town Poetry Slam in Cottonwood in April against some of the top poets in Northern Arizona, some more than twice his age.

Sedona Poetry Slam details

The June 27 slam will be hosted by Sedona poet Christopher Fox Graham.

Graham has been a member of four National Poetry Slam teams, representing Flagstaff in 2001, and Flagstaff/Sedona joint teams in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Graham was part of the Save the Male Tour, a four-man international spoken word tour in 2002.

Graham has repeatedly stated that "all slam poets are Jedis." In keeping with this, Graham has contributed to training "youngling slam poets" in Northern Arizona through mentorship and his Treatise on Slam Strategy.

Graham has performed for MTV's "Made" and on The Travel Channel's "Your Travel Guide" episode of Sedona. He has performed poetry in nearly 40 states, Canada, Ireland and Great Britain.

Sorbet poets include Ryan Garlington, mikel weisser and Markus Eye.

Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. The team needs to raise around $2,000 to fund the trip.
Studio Live is located at 215 Coffee Pot Drive, Sedona. For more information, visit

What is a poetry slam?

Founded in Chicago in 1984, poetry slam is a competitive artistic sport. Poetry slams are judged by five randomly chosen members of the audience who assign numerical value to individual poets’ contents and performances. Poetry slam has become an international artistic sport, with more than 100 major poetry slams in the United States, Canada, Australia and Western Europe.

Since 1990, teams from around the North America have competed at the National Poetry Slam, held in a different city every year. For five days, poets enjoy critique and camaraderie
as they compete. The top four teams face off on the final night.

Daytime events include instructional workshops, featured readings, poetry showcases, the infamous “Haiku Deathmatch.” Because of the rich diversity and intense focus on the art of spoken word, the National Poetry Slam is considered a transformational experience for young poets.

For more information about the 2009 National Poetry Slam, visit

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is Iran facing the world's first "Digital Revolution?"

What's going on in Iran?Read information about the 2009 Iranian election protests or see live updates.

The Iranian government has forbidden Western journalists from covering the election or the subsequent protests in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere in Iran.

Police and a paramilitary group called the Basij have violently suppressed the protests, firing into crowds and using batons, pepper spray, and other weapons. The Iranian government have confirmed the deaths of twenty people during the protests. Iranian authorities have closed universities in Tehran, blocked web sites, blocked cell phone transmissions and text messaging,and banned rallies.

The shooting death of Nedā Salehi Āġā-Soltān (ندا صالحی آقا سلطان) was broadcast around the world within hours. On June 20, at around 6:30 p.m., Āġā-Soltān, a student of Islamic philosophy, was sitting in her car in traffic on Kargar Avenue in Tehran, near the Amir-Abad area, accompanied by her music teacher and close friend, Hamid Panahi, and two unidentified others. The four were on their way to participate in the protests against the outcome of the 2009 Iranian presidential election.

Having gotten out of a subcompact Peugeot 206, whose air conditioner was not working well, in order to escape the heat, she was standing and observing the mass protests when she was allegedly targeted and shot in the chest by plain-clothes Basij paramilitaries who were attempting to subdue the protesters. Āġā-Soltān was pronounced dead en route to Tehran's Shariati hospital.

Several undated amateur videos depicting Āġā-Soltān collapsing to the ground, being tended to, and dying as her lungs filled with blood from the wound, were uploaded to Facebook and YouTube, and spread across the internet virally.

Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, produced a photograph of Nedā Salehi Āġā-Soltān from his jacket pocket, as well as photographs of his family, at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on June 22, and stated: "I have added [Nedā Salehi Āġā-Soltān] to the list of my daughters. She is now forever in my pocket."

On June 22, 2009, U.S. Sen. John McCain announced to the Senate that "She (Nedā Salehi Āġā-Soltān) had already become a kind of Joan of Arc" and "Today, I and all America pays tribute to a brave young woman who was trying to exercise her fundamental human rights and was killed in the streets of Tehran."

On June 23, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama paid tribute to Nedā Salehi Āġā-Soltān, saying that "[we] have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets."

The news of the street protests is being reported by Iranians on the streets using Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and MySpace, cell phone camera and cell phone videos. Sociologically, this could be the first 21st century revolution in which government statements, television cameras and formal news outlets are not the major means of communicating about the events, but average people using the Internet.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summertime Echoes - Poem

At an early summer party, a number of local artists brought their kids including Jess Johnson and Josh Robbins and their son Pax, Näthan Gangadean and his son, Amy and Jason Vargo and their daughter Amelia. David Reed and his wife Tara McGovern brought their 3-year-old daughter, Echo, who was the last kid at the day-long party and the one who lead us in a dance/costume party.

Summertime Echoes

Echo stands just about knee-height
throwing herself into stacks of costumes
pulling masks and plastics guns from the wall
to bedeck herself in another personality
and transfigure into a new little girl every few minutes
at 3, such changes take on heavy seriousness
because in mathematical proportion
these minutes mean more to her
than they do to those of us at 30

she wanders out to the party
leaping and running as her new self
while we tall people take her cue
and let go of our formalities
and try on new costumes, too
for a time, we become other echoes
of the children we once were

granted, the booze helps,
not Echo, but her bigger friends
yet deeper still
is the yearning to believe that a new hat
or a flowing cape
or jumpsuit two sizes too large
would actually convert us into our imaginations

before sunset
a newly-grandmothered woman
illuminated the semantic distinction between
a “daddy” and a “father”
a topic debated with the same serious as “the war”
or national fiscal policy
while I silently calculated
how I lost "daddy" at 12
and "father" at 23

watching Echo lead our revelry
I see that she still has her daddy
who danced with her whenever she asked
to the ’80s songs that filled the backyard
still filling that role when she needs

beneath my laughter
I longed for a similar connection
to my own flesh and blood
an infant daughter or son
who bears the features of a woman who loved me enough
to create a new tiny artist of our own
someone I could teach
how to love finger-painting
the rhythms of nursery rhymes
and the melodies of guitar strings

perhaps because I know I’ll see my newborn nephew
only when someone can distract my brother
who still hates me for some long-forgotten sin
something to do with my wild bohemian politics
or that I don’t play nice with those
who think monkey suits always need respect
my one and only curse to him
years ago
was that he have a son just like me
I pray that young boy’s first words
are spoken as haikus

when I first see him,
the mathematics of genes we share
will overwhelm my senses
because our shared bloodline
faces prospective survival for another 30 years
after my life story bookends with an obituary
but in the meantime,
I’ll take small joys in playing with little girls
who lovingly gaze at their fathers
in the midst of a summertime costume party
and hope that circumstances and blind luck
bring an artist-loving woman
who’ll endure all my spiteful idiosyncrasies
to give my newborn nephew his first cousin
who, if revenge is meted fairly,
will be just like my brother
dull, conservative and capitalistic
but I can hope that his anti-art recessive genes
met their genetic dead end
in him and our father
leaving only potential dreams and creative explorations
to survive in our blood
into generations as yet unborn

yet in the moment
I just have summertime experiences with friends
six-pack libations
and the wonderment of children
who have yet to learn that summer always ends

Save us, Barack Obama

Hiking with Nika

Nika Levikov was down in Sedona last week and called me up to hike on Wednesday. We headed up Schnebley Hill Road and got out to hike about 2 miles up the trail along with poodle, Timothy.
When we got to the Cow Pies, we were both blown away by the view and she ordered me to compose a haiku on the spot and she did one, too.

Mine was:
Outside my city
most will never see this sight
a good day to live

Sigh, I have a crush on her. She's also Ukrainian ... perhaps she's the Amidala to my Jedi ...
Photo from Facebook.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

'My CFG tattoo ....'

This thought came to me out of the blue: My dream is for my poetry to one day inspire someone to tattoo a line of it to their skin.
I'd do it to myself, but who am I? Megan Fox?
Not to poke fun at her, tattooing a poem to your skin is a beautiful celebration of the power of words, but I'd love to be inked onto someone's body.
My friend Corky Ke'ola'okalani has a tattoo of Logan Phillips' poem "12 Things You Need to Know About Mexico," specifically "Golden flutter fly fall Mariposa Monarca / thousands / the sky is azul / you are golden / flutter fly fall Mariposa Monarca thousands the sky is azul / Memo is golden / flutter fly fall Mariposa Monarca thousands the sky is azul / and on both sides we are golden."
I would love to be honored like that.

Is Yulia Tymoshenko in league with Jedi Obama?

If Barack Obama is a Jedi, who would be Princess Leia or Queen Amidala?

Could it be Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is rarely seen without her trademark braids.

She kind of has that "royal look" one would see in a personage with Nabooian blood, no?

Father's Day poem redux

I just realized today is Father's Day after seeing "Love You, Dad" on and wondering "Why?" The last time I spoke with my father was 6 years, 10 months, 6 days ago. I have a poem about this forgetful idiosyncrasy of my nature.

One Bruce Graham is a famous architect. Another is a theater actor. Mine was neither. Just kind a self-centered jerk.

Third Sunday in June

the third sunday in june came and went
without dinner,
phone call,
or a stamped hallmark with
"wish you were here,"
ever, dad
and i remained oblivious until 6 hrs 12 minutes
into my shift
when she wished me a happy father's day
from six hundred miles away
the kind of grandmotherly thing to do
when she couldn't gauge the age
of my twenty-something-er-other voice

the third sunday in june came and went
as i drove home
wondering if my paterfamilias
had paused midway between
the Gary Larson sketch
and the hilarious punchline
- something about purple aliens
flying saucers
and first contact -
and thought about me

but the better angel of reality
doubts this realization
came to pass

because march 12ths
mean i check my mailbox three times
hoping for an acknowledgement
that i matter
and june 17ths
mean i call my mother
close my eyes
and imagine her dressed in white at 22
october 28ths
mean i buy my brother a beer
even if he's not around
december 24ths
mean i donate a tie and cologne
to a shelter
december 25ths
mean a long morning in quiet contemplation
that even god and his son
had their disagreements

the third sunday in june came and went
and the cycle of
man to son
man to son
man to son
is bordering on generation #4
maybe more

i will bookend this repetition
i want to bookend this repetition
can i bookend this repetition?
can i end this?
can i?

or will my son
repeat them
every third sunday in june

like i do?

Further proof that Obama is a Jedi

Jedi-like reflexes?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Morning Poetry Haiku

Up until 6:10
Awoke alive, so I'll write
Who lives life like this?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Alaskans roll the car

Photo by Jake Henry.
Alaskans Jake Henry, one of my roommates, and Sam Cavanaugh headed down to Costco in Prescott, but didn't make it past the Village of Oak Creek. The right rear tire blew out, Sam over-corrected and the car rolled twice.
They're both fine and headed back into Sedona with Alun.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Slam Tutorial, Part XI, The Signature Poem

Round Three: The signature poem

All slam poets become "known" for certain poems. When the chips are down and you need a perfect 30, or you're so far ahead you want to reward the audience regulars, a signature piece is a thumbprint of you and your work.

The Peach is a Damn Sexy Fruit
Am I known for my political poems? My love poems that fill notebooks by the dozen? My deeply personal, self-reflective analysis of life as a young artist with little or nor real direction in life? Nope. I'm known for a silly poem about one type of fruit.

the Peach is a damn sexy fruit
if I could love a fruit like a woman
I would love a Peach
strong but soft
sweet but tart
the fuzz tickles my nose
and the sticky dewiness
is finger-licking good

you can keep your apples
Mr. Johnny Appleseed
that turn brown in minutes

you can have your bitter grapefruit
the blinder of eyes at breakfast

tempt me not tomátoes or tom%u0103toes!
cucumbers and zucchinis
those transvestite fruit
masquerading as vegetables!
for shame!
be true to yourselves!
do not deny that you were born as
and will always be fruit!

Coconuts require hammers, screwdrivers, or stones
and I am not into fetishes

Raspberries are too fragile
and can not love my volatility

Strawberries went corporate and sold out
now just fruits of the Man

Bananas are too exotic, too high maintenance
I have no patience for their ego

Cherries are but pop culture prostitutes
in everything from couch syrup to antacids to condoms

give me truth!
give me tenderness!
give me consistency!
give me a Peach!
give me Peaches!
give me millions of Peaches
Peaches for me
millions of Peaches
Peaches for free

you can eat a Peach voraciously
diving into juicy goodness
dribbling down your chin,

or eat it slowly in slices - one by one
you can nip off the skin
bit by tender bit
in a slow seduction
and tongue and suck it to the end

or you can rub that Peach into your face
eating it like a drunk starving monkey
and leave the orgasmic dew
on your cheeks and lips for hours

when complete,
no matter how consumed
you have the core
as a reminder that we are all the same
beneath it all
when our flesh, youth, and vitality are gone


you can bury the Peach core
to be born again
because the Peach embodies hope
because the Peach embodies life
the Peach is a message
the Peach is sensual
the Peach is you and me
the Peach is a damn sexy fruit

Friday, June 5, 2009

Slam Tutorial, Part X, The Future Road

Round Three: Road Trip Poem; The Past Fades, the Future Looms

Part of poetry is a sense of growing up, leaving the past behind and looking toward the future. A poem that takes the audience along a journey, literally on the road or metaphorically on the road of self discovery gives the audience a sense of completing a journey as the slam ends. It can also be used to show that the future is still uncertain. A great ending if the last part of the third round is neither high energy nor low energy.

To The Girl Riding Shotgun
For Montana and Sarrah Wile

across this home country of rednecks and ranchers
the pages of my ancestry
turn backward to days
running barefoot over vetch and stones
when i stood much shorter
gracing the sweetgrass with elbows and shoulders
instead of the strained fingertips of today
memories flood back when i least expect them
lessons learned, loves lost,
childhood games and their innocence
before i translated the rules
and learned how to break them

the silhouettes of familiar landscapes
eagerly welcome me back as if they're the tourists
revisiting a boy they knew in their youth

these green wheat fields of farmer tans
these western hats signaling oncoming howdys
these selfless smiles from strangers
this countryside
this is home

a boy i knew once lives here
we shared the same name
wished on the same stars
jumped the same cricks together
and left the other behind
when we cut the cord
leaving him in the Rockies
while i wandered the deserts

we see each other still in dreams
and play tag with fawns, calves and cubs
that have yet to learn
our parents play predator and prey

he still plays on the hillsides i long for,
beneath fir trees overlooking the valley that once held me fast
along the yellowstone artery carving a canyon
our ancestors will see from orbit

his house is over the ridge,
down this dusty stretch of gravel,
in the shadow of flax and sweetpeas,
i know the outline of the farm like a thumbprint
can pick it blindfolded from all the others
simply by the sound of the breeze
but the roads still seems unfamiliar
though the map clearly says it's here

and to the girl riding shotgun
all this land is as new
as it seems to me mostly
as i wait for the memories in bottles
to find me lost in this sea of rolling hills
beneath blue moons rising red in the blood of harvest
sometimes we're both awash anew in these fields
National Geographic anthropologists on assignment
deciphering a dialect with a common vocabulary
in others
she is only a passported traveler while i am timeless
standing swallowed by the sunset of red fields
touching my family's livelihood in the grain
reaching roots down deep into the land
that we love as a mother

bud lights, rodeos and hank williams
rise up from the soil
in the aftermath of a solid spring shower
as honky-tonk two-steps,
broad-rimmed stetsons
and a vigorous fiddle
shake free the alfalfa baled back home
and for a moment in the dim lights
old men remember being cowboys
while cowgirls look for old wives they will become

to understand montana
you must travel it by road
knowing that distances are measured in days, not hours
every stop is a must-see
because haybales are the only signs of human habitation
no matter what town you visit,
there's always a drink waiting at The Mint,
where the bartenders call you "hon,"
even if they know your name

lost locals identify themselves
by family name first
in the smallest towns
to which your bloodlines tie you
in montana,
family comes before the man

here, where death and life are cyclical
we learn young to converse honestly
because each visit
may be the last
until the hereafter
words are ties that bind

that boy i once knew
i see now grown up
behind the wheel of every beat-up Ford
that passes us
the girl riding shotgun learns
that the difference between
redneck and revolutionary
lies in the chance taken
by my parents
before i could even spell "poet"

that boy sees me, too
behind the wheel of every out-of-state plate
knowing that this boy looking for home,
is on the interstate,
dreaming of catching up,
where the beer is cold
the jukebox plays only johnny cash
and on the drive back down country roads
the breezes bring back memories
on the parachutes of roadside dandelions

Slam Tutorial, Part IX, The Poetry Benediction

Round Three: A poem that celebrates the power of poetry

You're at a poetry slam and it's the last round. Chances are, the audience is already in awe of all the poetry they've heard, so now's the time to rub it in by talking about how powerful poetry can be.
This works like a benediction that complements the invocation poem in the first round. There is no need to do both, but if you do, it forms a nice bookend. If the two poems are related and echo the same words - which I have seen done before - the poem can have a powerful impact. This type of sequence only works, however, if you go early in the first round and late in the third.

Spinal Language
give me a tattoo
deeper than skin
on the bones of my spine
onto the surface of every vertebrae
in every human tongue
tattoo their word for "poetry"
so that no language feels foreign anymore;
so that each human voice
can speak a word in me

let Arabic and Hebrew
sit side by side without throwing stones
let Cantonese and Hindi characters
link hands to hold Swahili and Hutu in a hammock
let Basque and Zulu finally touch lips Vietnamese
while Navajo rests it's head on the shoulder of Malay

we speak six thousand tongues
but i'll endure the pain and the time
so no human voice can speak to me
without being felt
down to the bone

let African syllables
share space with European articulations,
Asian morphemes,
and Aboriginal pronunciations,

line them up and engrave them
like an organic barcode written in Braille
readable by the worms that will one day convert me back
to the religion of dust and ash
that we believed in once
before this cult of flesh and blood
brought us out from clay
to play brief characters in the rain

let them taste the flavor of our words
let them consume poetry
and give it back to the soil
so the earth can feel the weight of our words
and not forget us
when we extinct ourselves
like the species before us

carve the last word
in morse code
at the base of my spine
so that I can hear the rhythm of the word
in my hips when i sleep
.--. --- . - .-. -.--
let dots and dashes spread
across all my bones in a virus of comprehension
so if i lose my voice
I can still speak a word
by tapping my fingers,
pounding a drum
or changing the rhythm of my heartbeat
to speak with my blood


six thousand tongues
playing my spine
in 33-part harmony
making a symphony of me
with a melody that reverberates
up my spinal cord
echoing louder and louder in the tunnel
amplifying the compounding music
all the way to the base of my brain
where it detonates
and resonates inside my skull
six thousand new expressions
for the same word
with the voices of six billion singers
into my six trillion thoughts
until I can take no more chaos
and their song explodes from my lips

offering the world
a moment of synchronized understanding
of one song
of one voice
of one man
for one instant

before the world blinks
loses focus
and listens to the echo
slowly fade away

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Slam Tutorial, Part VIII, Love & Humor

Round Three: A Love Poem with a Dash of Humor

By the third round, surely someone has slammed a love poem. Perhaps everyone has dropped a poem here or there. They best way to turn the slam on its head is with an over-the-top humorous poem that tackles poetry's favorite subjects: love, sex, lust, relationships and sugar.

Breakfast Cereal
for Gretchen Ryan Hays

I like you like breakfast cereal
choc full of goodness
because I want have you first thing in the morning
while watching cartoons
as a reward for being for being good
or really, really naughty the night before

I like you like breakfast cereal
because I feel all soft and soggy inside
when I'm around you
like a marshmallow
tender and squishy

I like you like breakfast cereal
you have green clover in your hips
and red balloons in your lips
I want to make love to you under the yellow moon
and let all the blue stars watch
and I find myself following purple horseshoe prints to find you,
tracing them with my finger back around to you

I like you like breakfast cereal
and I like feel that stupid rabbit trying to catch you
and I could put on silly costumes
and tell you long-winded stories
and try to distract you long enough to get just a taste of you

but tricks are for kids
and we promised to be honest
so honestly -
you have been part of my complete breakfast
ever since I saw you across the room
and tasted you with my eyes
imagining your flavor
my tongue gets twisted in fruit loops
I am so lucky, so charmed to have you
I like your packaging - simple but really pretty
I feel like a Cap'n in your arms
I am coco for your CoCo Puffs
you make me cheery, oh... so cheery

I think of you first thing in the morning
and how you have enough vitamins and minerals when you blush
to keep me healthy all day long
I want a bowl of you every morning
until I am too old to pick up a spoon
and have to have you though a straw

I will follow you to France and make toast
or Florida to squeeze oranges
or South America for bananas
but you don't need anything extra to make me like you
I could have you wet ... or dry
quickly on a lunch break
at 2 a.m. all drunk and sloppy
on a camping trip
or while driving cross country in a Waffle House parking lot
you're satisfying anywhere

I want you three times every Saturday morning
when there's no school, no work,
and when we can play till Sunday
because your contents don't shift during shipping and handling
and none of your ingredients are artificial
you are naturally flavored
and so painfully sweet it hurts my teeth when I see you
I will like you until all my teeth fall out

Slam Tutorial, Part VII, A Controversial Issue

Round Two: A Controversial Issue

Be it abortion, gay rights, domestic violence, or suicide, controversial issues all have personal stories behind them. Whatever your politlcal or social leaning, putting a human face on the subject makes the topic more than a cerebral debate.

A Moment in Albuquerque
This poem covers a topic of dear friend of mine and her boyfriend at the time who had to travel to New Mexico to have an abortion. She was under age 18 at the time and could not have an abortion in Arizona without her parents' approval. They did not know she was pregnant. I tried to make sure that this poem does not contain any political overtones belying my opinion, which really doesn't matter. It simply relates a story.

thump, thump
thump, thump
two hearts
one body

thump, thump
thump, thump
familiar landscapes drop away
in the rearview
summer moments falling behind
into the anxious embrace of the autumn
missed moons and winter choices
keep or cut loose

thump, thump
thump, thump
tires kiss asphalt
the way he kissed her
intentional and unavoidable
between the lines
between the sheets
the inevitable path onward
heads to skin to gas tank
skin to breath to pistons
breath to hips to axle
hips to rhythm to tires
rhythm to climax to road
and the headlights illuminate
the silent afterglow

thump, thump
thump, thump
the geography of bodies and maps
tell stories of our history
lovers' names tied inexorably to cities,
hometowns and vacation destinations
cities we've fled from or fled to
cities we met lovers or lost them
cities we've yet to see
or want to never see again
for her, Albuquerque carries a memory
most men can't comprehend
though the mathematics of the choice
we can calculate and counter
two bodies and a moment
equals three heartbeats in two skin
and a choice to subtract one in Albuquerque

thump, thump
thump, thump
November seems unseasonably cold
maybe it's the 80 mph highway wind
against the chassis
the silent air between them
as the miles tick by

thump, thump
thump, thump
what small talk should we have?
whatever slips of lips
seems woefully insignificant
if it evades the subject inside you
weather, road, womb, reaching fingers
desperate to comfort
so we say nothing
watch the passing headlights
chase the taillights ahead
from 89A to 17 to 40

thump, thump
thump, thump
thump, thump
"Welcome to New Mexico"
one of you won't be leaving
thump, thump
thump, thump
thump, thump
we made the choice before we left
thump, thump
three becoming two
thump, thump
two heartbeats, one body
thump, thump
thump, thump
thump, thump



an equation
a city
a memory
and the ambivalent road

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Slam Tutorial, Part VI, A Poem About Family

Round Two: A personal poem about family

We all have family. For some, family is a footnote. For others, family is the most important part of life. For people like me, we don't really know how important they are until their gone. Any audience member can appreciate that distinction.

We Call Him Papa
for Frank Leslie "Buster" Redfield
May 14, 1925 - Oct. 31, 2004

What makes this topic so important to me personally is that my grandfather and I shared 25 years on Earth, but I learned more about him in the last six hours we spent together talking, both knowing his cancer was terminal, than I did in the 25 years before those hours. The tragedy is that my grandfather had to die for me to truly understand what I had lost and what he meant to me. That lack of understanding for so long is the only sin in my life I truly regret.

we call him Papa
and he could move mountains with his silence

he fathered a family of artists
who knew the value of labor
the efficiency of expression
if it is unclear, rephrase it
if it is unusable, remove it
if it is imperfect, rework it
until it is as much a part of you
as a limb
he never said this
but his life implied it

his stone eyes
edited lies from our speech
before we could speak them
his hands held me tight once
after I sinned
they held me soft
when my father translated himself
into a mythology
I've since ceased believing in
his hands were the tools
with which he spoke through his silence

he carved and crafted rifles
like Stradivarius made violins
and the first recoil
was a symphony
compressed to a split second
he brought wood to life
as though generations of forests grew
to make the right grain
the right feel worthy of his talent

he did not build airplanes,
he built aircraft with the precision of a heart surgeon
knowing a loose screw, one misaligned wire
could transform a craft of beauty
into a coffin
and wife like his into a widow
he made no widows
except one

he crafted art that soared like mechanical angels
and made us feel
how he must have felt with Grandma

even in his absence he scares me
because he was so much more
of what a man should be
than the men I see around me
than the man who fathered me

he was sometimes the machine moving me
he was sometimes the monster under my bed
keeping me from going gently into the night
without fighting the darkness
he was sometimes a giant
stretching hands from horizon to horizon
holding down the sun and moon
and dictating their rising

I am convinced that eastern Montana
is so perfectly flat
in awe of him

we call him Papa
and he could move mountains with his silence

I never heard him say he loved her
not in words
not in a way I could steal
not in a way that the cheap poet in me
could have plagiarized into a stanza
for some mediocre poem unworthy of his memory

I never heard him say he loved her with words

he said it with his eyes

he said it in the stories my mother would tell me
about how he would raise armies and wage wars
just to bring her flowers

he said it with the way he told me
about driving across New York and Pennsylvania every weekend
just to see her for two hours between college classes and curfews

he said he loved her by playing "waltzing matilda" on a harmonica
like he was asking her to dance for the first time,
even after all these years

he said he loved her
by showing us how good man
should love a woman right

we call him Papa
and he could move mountains with his silence

he is the poet
me, his eldest grandson,
I am just his microphone

Slam Tutorial, Part V, An Intense Personal Poem

Round Two: An Intense Personal Poem

An intense personal poem often makes a good piece to read in the second round a three-round slam. Be wary if every other poet is doing the same. Your poem must stand out and relate to the audience. If it's too wrapped up in your nuances, personality or private jargon, your audience won't care. If you met someone in college who lead you into drugs and self abuse, hence the reason you lost a finger in a car accident then ran from the police, no one cares what your major was. Your goal is to make your audience realistically believe that they are you for a few minutes. Thus, the poem must relate to the them, being specific enough to be you, yet just generic enough to give them the sense of "oh, I've been there, too."

She Only Loves Me When the Bars Close
For Ashley Wintermute

she only loves me when the bars close
and no one else is willing to take her home
spilling drama Ibsen would envy
about this girl or that boy
who said or did something
we must deal with right away
even though the guilty parties
aren't around to argue the contrary

she comes in the back door
as my roommates sleep oblivious to the impending Armageddon
soon to destroy us all
fights past all my contradictions
to slip into my satin sheets
and call me to bed
no matter whatever late-night duties require my attention
I just want to sleep
without a stranger's tongue in my mouth
drift off to sleep alone and contented in my loneliness
without her arms wrapping envious tendrils around me
desperate for my attentions, tongue or cock
to remind her she's human and wanted

I've lived my days without a woman
to make me feel like a man
just give me a soft pillow
and dreams of past lovers
or memories of travels
or fictional visions of potential futures
and I drift into dreamland
with a smile until dawn
but she calls me to bed
to wrap myself around her
hold her like all the lovers she's left behind
I am not them
I am more than a body
with a hungry organ seeking a cathedral
to play my music in
while the seats sit empty of religious devotees
I don't need the fictions
that tonight is the night two twin souls find each other
one drunk on whiskey
the other loaded up with gin
making long island iced tea love
ripe with thick cigarette smoke on our breath
to stink the air beneath the sheets

she slips off her clothes
throws her panties to floor
as if the only key I needed to her moistness
was the lack of a cotton barrier

my hips learned the motions
the thrust and throb of hips
from wise women who could have taught
a hundred thousand men
the way to love properly
I have been a student of masters
who still make my head spin
years after they taught me how to play

one who showed me how a tongue can speak verse
by the way it flicks and glides across a clit
as if poetry was not the sound of words
but their movement in space
another who wanted to fuck everywhere but the bed
finding the best place of all
was an overloaded dryer
bouncing off-balance
while the buzzer went off every 15 minutes for hours
another who taught me the way to find perfect rhythm
is to pretend you're a jazz trio
accompanying a polka band
while the titanic sinks

loving a woman with hips and skins
takes intention and concentration
but their arts are wasted when you are, too

she calls for lips
pops a pill to ease herself
pulls close my muscles
and wants the better parts of me
to fill her
but when the competition is eighty proof
I see no reason to trespass on her intoxication
I want to love her
but her stories change too fast to trust

she stretches her limbs
rubs below my belt
to awaken what she thinks she wants
and opens her anime eyes to my otaku desires
but I've seen the way this ends
and no one in Neo-Tokyo lives to tell the tale
I am more than her cartoon perfect playmate
I've seen her pull the football out from her Charlie Browns
only she's left unsatisfied and oblivious
while they go off to find
little red-haired girls to love

she treats her pussy like a daytrip destination
instead of somewhere one wants to live
pay a mortgage,
build a white-picket fence
and eventually retire
we've all gotten postcards
from those who've been there before
and the mystery has become a cheap tourist trap
we only visit for the novelty
of saying we've been there, done that

she spreads her legs
to spill honey
but she's only catching flies
so I zip mine up
and sleep on the couch
by myself at least I'm with someone who loves me
for what I dream of
not what I dangle between my lonely thighs

she only loves me when the bars close
only calls after 2 a.m.
and I can tell her time zone
by checking the clock
each message begins with slurs
about missing me with extra "s"s
and how much she hates me for not calling back by three
but how much she loves me, but hates me, but loves me
whatever my name is tonight

she curses my lovers
points at their photos and says they'll never love me again
but that's not why I keep them
they loved me once
and that's all I have in the end
she hates my wall-hanging lovers
because she hasn't been one of them

she doesn't remember
the night I let go of these rules
slipped part of me into her
and watched her writhe with joy
as her hips shook uncontrollably over and over and over
she asked me the next morning if we fucked
they way you'd ask someone
if they'd read a news story
or seen a movie
or cleaned the rain gutters last year
if she can't remember
why remind her

I've fucked for fun
and for curiosity
but not to be forgotten
I don't need any more stamps in my passport
and I've visited countries like hers before

she only loves me when the bars close
but I don't serve what she's drinking
I only save her a barstool
pour water and soda until she's so drunk on her own vintage
that she doesn't know what time it is
drifts off to sleep in my arms
only then is she finally honest enough
for me to trust her
only unconscious, still and silent
do I believe what she has to say
only then
when she can't contradict me a thousand ways
I whisper what she wants to hear

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Slam Tutorial, Part IV: Heavy Social Adocacy

Round One: Heavy Social Advocacy

Living is tough. The world is unforgiving. While we all know this, there are certain incidents that hit us harder than others. As poets, our job to empathize and speak for those who can't. A poem touching on social concerns, like young suicides, abuse by "the system" or touching on modern "hopelessness" achieves this goal. This poem does well late in the first round after the atmosphere becomes serious. Too early and the audience is unprepared. This needs to be balanced against the poems that come before it.

Three Minutes for Dylan
This poem relates to an 8-year-old boy named Dylan, who hanged himself in Cottonwood, Ariz., in December 2004. On Jan. 22, 2005, a local 11-year-old, RayLynne hung herself. It was been the third such suicide by hanging in the Verde Valley in two months. The first was Dylan, then a 15-year-old boy, the son of Camp Verde's Town Manager. The girl's mother had a meeting with me at the newspaper I worked at. The girl's grandmother had faxed a letter to the editor thanking local organizations and individuals for support and donations to the girl's funeral expenses. The mother wanted to add some names. She came in Friday and she was tweaking on methamphetamine at the meeting. I helped her out as much as I could and made the changes she requested, but I wanted to punch her. I left work immediately after. I just wanted to break something.

Wednesday, Cottonwood
7:07 p.m.
in the air the boy hangs
suspended above the floor like an angel
his lungs are vacant of sound and life

7:08 pm
the upstairs bedroom closet door opens
slow at first
and fear explodes
mother's hands
no! struggle! rope! throat!
no! phone! fumble! 9–1–1!
no! address! son! paramedic!
no! baby! come! quick! please!
no! son! son! son …
Dylan …

she had three minutes with him
three minutes alone
three minutes to contemplate
how her eight–year–old son
could hang himself
could jump from a chair
could prepare a closet
could tie a noose
could find his lungs vacant of a reason to live
could decide at 8
that life was not worth living

she had three minutes
before they arrived
and no answer when they did

there is a word
for a man widowed by a wife
for a woman widowed by a husband
for a child orphaned by parents
but there is no name
when a parent loses a son
because the thought is too terrifying
to imagine

he was trying to speak to us
but his lungs were vacant
before he jumped
but his lungs were vacant
before he tied the noose

the ritual of suicide
speaks a language of its own
with a gun – helpless fury in a moment
with a leap from a building – surrender to the world
with an overdose – a secret shame
with a bomb strapped to your body – rage wrapped in your people's despair
but with a hanging
every step must be calculated
and there can be no doubt
of your intention

but his vacant lungs either
did not speak before then
or we did not hear him

the medical examiner ruled the case closed
with no four play
and the paramedics added one more
atrocious anecdote to their nightmares
and we, at the newspaper,
had to grapple
with how to best word the headline
and write the story
of a child who was too silent to speak
whose lungs were too vacant of breath to be quoted

no one was charged in his death
but we are criminals
because none of us stopped him
none of us heard him
none of us offered him
three minutes of silence
to contemplate his value
to tell him he was an angel worth living

he tied the noose
he prepared the closet
he jumped from the chair
but we hanged him
by not hearing the scream held
in his 8–year–old lungs

his name was Dylan
these are the three minutes I'm giving him

your turn

Slam Tutorial, Part III: The Power of an Artist

Round One: The Power of an Artist

Your audience is about to experience a poetry slam, a powerful art form that strives to elicit strong emotions from your audience in a short amount of time. A crowd could be rolling on the floor laughing at one poem, and crying in their seats during the next, a mere three to five minutes later.
Thus, pointing out how other types of artists or art forms can affect people is an oblique way to point out how poetry, specifically yours, can do the same.

The Dust is Centuries Thick

In the corners of this room,
the dust is centuries thick
accumulated from the hundreds of thousands
of footfalls that have shaken the hardwood floors

in the corners, the dust narrates stories
of surviving the earthquake that leveled the city of Lisbon
in 1755 but left this building standing

its tiled walls still echoes the voices
of the men from the 16th century
who filled this library
whispering to each other
the truths that they gleaned from illuminated books

this dust heard Napoleon at the gates
held safe the patriots that resisted him
the vaulted arches comforted both factions
in the civil war without choosing sides
to further divide the brothers already at war

the dust in this room withstood the revolution,
the coup d'état, the book-burners,
the two world wars
and the end of an empire

the dusted lasted all these years
but never has it seen anything
as beautiful as her

she, the dancer, glides across this hardwood floor
on bruised and battered toes
her arms ache from repeating the movements
until they are flawless

she takes the train
the bus, the metro
to come here
suffer the abuse of a teacher demanding no less
than perfection
she is intimidated by her own passion
yet will not surrender

she, the dancer, is artistry in motion,
skimming over the hardwood
with every limb, every ounce of her
articulating all the poetry that used to fill this room

books are no longer necessary
define beauty
watch her
what is art?
watch her
is there a god?
watch her

speak to me a radiant poem about a sun rise
watch her and the poem
will spill from lips like breath

she does not move like us
her muscles are an army
every part, an instrument
combining the chorus of her feet
with the brass of her legs
the strings of her arms
the percussion of her chest
beating her heart drum
in rhythm to the symphony of her presence
if the tiles had eyes
they would not blink
fearing that she would wisp away like a dream
in the sunrise streaming through the windows

fill this space with the memory of your movements
dance across these wood floors that creak underfoot
and ache to hold your steps
for a moment,
like a lover would

as she dances at the center of the world
the dust, in the corners of this room,
forgets all the years
forgets the wars, the blood, the books, the whispers
and she,
at this moment
is why this building stands

Monday, June 1, 2009

Slam Tutorial, Part II: The Invocation

Round One: An invocation to open the slam

Early in the first round, an invocation, much like one at the beginning of a church service, can put the audience in the mood for an intense slam. Many ancient Grecian performances began similarly, with an Invocation to the Muse, calling up the minor deity who governed the particular art form that the performance in question.
The invocation often works well in the first two slots, if the poem is well-rehearsed.

Imagine a Religion

imagine a religion
where words
are scripture
and we only speak to pray

this is how she and I communicate
each word with salvation on its edges
the sounds of angels in our speech
and god in our sentences

I never want to open my mouth
let sound spill from my lips faithlessly
I want each word to move believers
in the way I have been moved

I want believers to quote my prose
knowing that faith is in the understanding of language
I want them to take vows of silence
except with speaking sincerely

no tone or breath should leave lips
without a purpose
except to shatter shackles
or build homes for those less fortunate

words should hammers become
raising walls and roofs beneath which families may flourish
words should be so valued
that each one is written down in sequence

we speak with this brevity of purpose
where minds lock hands with minds
dropping the illusion of wordplay
in favor of doubtlessness

imagine a world
where tongues speak truth without suspicion
where people are judged only
by what they say

imagine the death of chatter
imagine a society where small talk is sin
where strangers are silent
except when faith convicts them to sound

imagine a world where lies have no substance
imagine children learning that words must have weight
or they are useless,
imagine people speaking only when the spirit commands it

imagine a world where all strangers can be trusted
if they break their silence
to tell us their names
or stories of how they came to be here

imagine a world where lovers
whisper in the dark
only to say what haunts them
so we may whisper back, "fear not, I understand"

Slam Tutorial, Part I: Choose Wisely, Slam Poet

A Slam Tutorial

Christopher Fox Graham's picks for a typical slam

The following include my choices for a generic three-round slam, using my own the fodder.

My personal preference is to hit the first round with either a flash and bang poem, a silly poem, or one of my memorized favorites. I have a terrible case of nerves before a slam, and hitting a polished piece gets me over the hump.

For round two, I prefer, like a lot of other poets, to perform a slow, personal, meaningful poem. A running joke among many of us in the national slam scene is that "In round two, everybody dies." These are where the breakup poems, death poems, suicide poems, and sorrowful poems find the most traction. The crowd is more subdued and willing to accept what you have to say. The flip side is that if the three or four poems ahead of you are personal poems, but low-energy downers, I sometimes throw a humorous poem to change the energy. If the scores are low, 7s and 8s, this can often score a high 8 or in the 9s. This sometimes backfires if the scores are higher because the audience wants to stay serious.

Round three is the most loose. If the night has been high energy, I go out high. If it's low energy, I usually perform one of signature poems or a polished poem. If I have a big lead or I'm way behind and statistically unable to place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd without more than a perfect 30, I'll perform something new that likely scores lower, just to test the piece. Also, if I'm in a situation where I'm feeling sentimental about the venue, the date, the slam itself, or personally, I'll perform a poem with personal value and forget about the scores. Additionally, I there's someone in the audience who I want to hear a particular poem, this is where I throw it.