Now this is funny. It comes from HBO’s “Def Poetry” web page.

Think you’ve heard poetry? You haven’t heard anything until you’ve experienced the words of Def Poets and host Mos Def!

This stuff – def poetry or whatever you want to call it- is basically trash. Not the good trash that Pauline Kael speaks of, but the kind of trash that belongs under a pile of dirty diapers, empty bottles and used condoms.

Poetry is a craft and an art. Becoming a good poet is every bit as difficult and rare as becoming a good composer or a good painter. Why is that so hard to understand? That rock lyricist who you think is awesome, probably isn’t, and all def poets suck big, fat, fucking eggs. It all reminds me of the one MTV moment I deem truly great. Kurt Loader was interviewing Jewel about her book of poetry and pointed out a basic semantic error. She thought ‘casualty’ meant ‘casualness.’  Watching two tons of pretentiousness come crashing onto the studio floor was a pure delight. Unfortunately, even that wasn’t enough to discourage Jewel, as she is a guest on one episode of this show.

I don’t mind amateur poets doing their thing at coffee shops, but they don’t belong on concert stages, nationally televised on the assumption that we should appreciate them as artists. What’s next? An evening with the The Thousand Oaks High School Marching Band? Live stand up from open mike night at The Chuckle Hut in Kansas City?

If you have the good fortune not to have witnessed def poetry, it generally sounds like something you might make up as a joke if you don’t have anything good to read on the crapper. A majority of the poe – no, I just cant say it. Let’s call them the orators. Anyway, a majority of them are black and virtually all of them spout a dumbed-down version of some juvenile strain of identity politics that they picked up by reading the backs of the books they were assigned in their American studies classes. All of this in a ridiculous, sing song cadences, arbitrarily pausing, speeding up, slowing down and raising and lowering their voices as they spew empty plays on words and rhymes. You get something like:

I’m black. I’m behind the eight ball? NO WAIT! I AM. the eight. ball. I bawl and bawl, I play basketball, I attend a ball? but they won’t let me in, cuz I AM. the. eight. ball.
QUE’S the man. He’s out to attack, whack black from the rack and into? the COR – nerrrrr… pocket.
But MY pockets are empty… I get knocked around. But I am the eight ball, and I. Am still proud.

That took about 4 minutes to write and it is better than most of the stuff on this show. I have no doubt that these people slave over their work, but the fact is even the best of it is of no higher quality than Eminem’s lyrics. In other words, it’s hackneyed garbage. It’s even hackneyed on it’s own terms. The majority of these orators use nearly identical deliveries.

I’ll put it this way. Either Malcom Jamal Warner is a real renaissance man, or his appearance on the episode I saw indicates that this is not legitimate poetry. I’ll leave it up to you to decide, but if you believe the former, I have some Justine Bateman paintings to sell you.

Ruthless Ratings

  • Number of episodes seen: 1/2
  • Number of times you tried to remember that spoken word can be amusing when people don’t take themselves so seriously and when they crack jokes, like Jello or the other 2 or 3 passable performers you’ve heard: 5
  • Number of times you worried that def poetry might catch on even more: 15
  • Number of times you considered making a joke using def/deaf: 3 [Ed Note: You’ll wish you were deaf]
  • Quantify it: 2

Jonny just wants to add

Nothing to do with Def Poetry per say, but consistent with Erich’s attack on whack poets; a few months back my friends and I went to a Cinco de Mayo concert to dance and get drunk. In between bands they had a “Latina Poet.” That’s how she billed herself. I’m pretty convinced I could write an algorithm that could spit out the exact same poetry this woman proceeded to chant. Like this;

The earth, my mother. My mother, the earth.
The earth is my skin, the rivers my menstrual flow
You pollute my skin, pollute my essence
And my womb is the earth and the earth is my mother
You’re killing my mother by filling my womb
With greed and hatred and racism and capitalism
The mountains are my breasts and the sea is my vagina
Revolution, pollution – my confusion and contribution is silence
But no! No, you will not rape my mother, you will not rape my womb
Pine trees are my fallopian tubes and children are my ovaries

You get the gist. It was just brutally awful. I couldn’t stop laughing or imitating her.