Articles de La Guinguette - 2003 - mars - culture

Titre L'âme du slam
Année 2003
Mois mars
Catégorie culture
Traducteur Alistair Mills
Dernière mise à jour02 December 2008

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The spirit of slam[1]

It's true that people are scared of happiness and run away from it, so that's where I come in. To support my condition of being human, personally I write, yes I write, that's the direction of my life. And I scream, I scream that I will run over all the ants!

We are in a dark room; the air is blue with smoke. A crowd of five hundred people - people of all ages, but on the whole rather young - have just shared a new phenomenon in show business: 'Slam'.

Slam is poetry recited by amateurs for amateurs. During this evening some forty odd slammers express themselves one by one. These latest ones say their pieces, their poems, by heart or even by reading them, some times improvising. They express their loves, their regrets, their anger, their humour too, with talent and sincerity:

I am in front of the word poetry
I look at the poetry
I don't see anything
I don't hear anything I look with my eyes
I don't see anything, I don't hear anything. I summon my prompt. I'm awaiting his call.

I can't see him but I know he's looking elsewhere. He's watching the action. I'm stuck with my script which for me is nothing but unreadable things for example: nothing and nothing else. I'm still waiting his call. Not so far from poetry. Soon I'll hear the echo of poetry, but cannot grasp it.

I'm at the bottom of my ?. I ? nothing.

Or else.

You're talking, you’re talking but your projects remain without a future.

You are saying that the verse destroys sometimes your freedom but personally I ask myself of the two of us who is the dead weight, because when searching for truth there is only me who has really decided.
Perhaps in order to set-off you must first have known how to stay still for a long moment to hear yourself thinking, to know who you are.
Perhaps in order to set-off you must feel well.
So this evening I am telling you who is going: I cannot wait here till you are happy with your life because mine is also awaiting me, because living with you makes me lose my present.
I am leaving to look for truth, for good things, because there is nothing good here for me.
I have done what I could, that is loving you, but it is not possible to do anything for someone who does not want to change. Please, listen to me one last time and then when it is the right moment for you, come and join me over there.

They are going to be following one another onto the stage all evening, spurred on by Marco. Each has only five minutes to express himself. It is a format which comes from abroad.

It comes from the United States, form Chicago. It is American but we have also translated into our French version and adapted to the situation in Lyon, but also to the situation in France. Really the Americans invented it, but we don't have the same language, the Americans don't speak French, the French speak very little English and inevitably that provides something which resembles what we are, you see.

Marco is reinventing slam. Since 97, he has been refining the rules according to his idea.

In the Lyon club of word collectors, the Camaria, it's 5 minutes per person without musical support, sign up before and then say what you want to, as you feel like, and at the same time you have a little drink, there you are, that's it. One poem equals one glass, fifty peons equals one glass. It is not a drinking competition. It is rather a place where people come to express themselves.

Freely, express themselves freely. But why in that case, expressing themselves in no more than five minutes? Why this requirement to sign up too?

Why? Because personally coming from rap, I know, coming from Hip Hop I know exactly how that's going to end. The most talkative keep the microphone and you've got to drag them away on all fours, and the others won't be able to express themselves. Five minutes. No more. Thank you. And don't arrive at the last minute while all the others have made a queue. Personally I don't go along with it in the bakers when they go to the front and I am fourth in line. For several reasons. The first is that when I go to the bakers I am hungry, so I would like to eat as quickly as possible. The second is that I respect others and I don't go along with them not respecting me. The third is that time is money, but that's really the third thing however.

What strikes you immediately is the diversity of the acts.

Some are specialists in language, others have done writing, political science, others are comedians in training, others having been journalists, others have written novels and others have no qualifications at all, like me, coming from nowhere. I was about to say that more than 50% have graduated from rap, not rap and such things but from Hip Hop. I was one of the first to demonstrate Hip Hop in Lyon in 79, so that's old. Really I do not deny where I came from, you know. But what interests me is the ways of writing.

And the common denominator?

The love of words, and the fact that no one knew each other 12 months ago, the fact that every one has stuck together. So there is a very real balance that means that there is a certain unity for going in the same direction, but well, it's a collection of individualists, eh.

There are no acts the same in the club. Each is different. Each has a different idea, that means that one is an academic, one is a poet, one a lyricist, and personally I am a talker.

For sure we destroy words a bit, but isn't that a reasonable take on things? Why leave them for the pleasure only of academics who make rules. And if we are bending the rules, academics, doctors. Language is not sick. Quite the opposite, it's full of life. It is ready for anything.

I am only a chatterer who gets lost in the dark without telling tales, who loves things sordid and romantic, lusty games, flowers which grow in Balnavie, existential lyricists, and academics for no more than five minutes, the poets who sow discord and the former statisticians who skilfully break the speed records with their witty collections of words.

There are things which irritate us and which we can prevent ourselves from denouncing. So obviously we don't send off the lesson tellers who always have a solution but what we don't like to do is to tell them off systematically. We never let them pass. So in effect the long distance dustbin, the reactionaries who have just taken power a little while ago, they bother us as much as the polluters of this planet as much as a whole pile of unlikely things which exist from day to day and that we have to endure.

So for me it is a verbal push against authority and one of the last places for liberty. Slam is free, the fact of doing it too. Everyone can express themselves, so we control the problem from that point of view at least. It is the only thing that we can do anyway.

I don't need anyone at Harley Davidson
I no longer recognise anyone at Harley Davidson
I am going at more than 100
And I feel myself fire and blood
It's of no importance to die with the wind in your hair
Like Brigitte Bardot on a Harley Davidson, we charge along
Let's breath the air again, let's breath in this invasive alchemy
Let's charge along, the world is an endless discovery.

We love one another, we sew and we move on:

We have been to Nantes, to Saint-Brieux, we have been to Pas-de-Calais, beside Lille, we went to Geneva, then on to Lausanne; everywhere people want, they are thirsty, they want to listen. This is a little fashionable phenomenon but I think that it is about to become something more that a fad soon as everyone wants to have their say everywhere we go. And what really delights us is to settle ourselves anywhere and we go to whatever the folks there have and we start again anywhere. They even do it out of doors! Really that's the goal. That is we want to be like an extremely contagious illness. The verbal plague. But a good one, right! Not one that kills. In the end one which kills, which excites, which makes people want to laugh too - clap their hands and drink a little together.

What interests us in all that is that people are happy and that the people get up, let's say to be sociable, let's invite them to drink something with us and of course they can drink plain water. But we invite them to drink a glass with us while they are on their feet; they have had the courage to do it. It is about friendship and what concerns us.

[1] Slam - this exists with the same name in English - see http://poetryslam.com

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With questions or for more information, please contact Alistair Mills (alistair.mills@btinternet.com)
Updated 02 December 2008

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