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Friends & Fans of the Worcester Poets’ Asylum,

It is with a heavy heart that we announce that, after October 6th, the Poets’ Asylum will no longer be hosting a weekly reading. We are going on an extended hiatus & will return sometime next year, but in a new & smaller form.

For almost 25 years we have striven to provide a space for both new & established poets to share their work. We have presented over 1,200 open mics, over 600 feature poets (& paid out over $35,000 to them), hosted iWPS & NorthBeast, & fielded 15 slam teams. When we started there were no weekly poetry readings in Worcester County. Now there is a reading almost every night. We hope that you will continue to support the growth of poetry in the area.

The Worcester Poetry Slam will be transferring to the hands of our friends at The Dirty Gerund. Over the next few months they will be announcing the new format & telling you about some very exciting things they have planned. There are some wonderful things ahead for the Worcester Poetry Slam, so keep your eyes open.

As for now, the Poets’ Asylum will host two more readings:

September 29th we will be featuring Adam Stone & having an open mic.

October 6th will be our final night. We will be having an extended open mic & final send-off.

On the night of the 6th, we’ll also be selling off all of the Asylum merchandise (tee shirts, CDs, stickers, books) to help pay off our bills. This is our last waltz, so we hope you’ll come dance with us one last time.

Thank you to everyone who has supported us through the years, read on our stage, listened in the audience, shared our words, offered us a home, & been a family to us. You are the reason we have done this for so long.

Thank You to the Worcester Artist’ Group, Lucky’s Café, Eleni’s Midnight Café, Java Hut, The Q, The Nu Café, & WCUW-FM for providing us a space to be who we are.

Thank You Worcester for being our Home. We hope we did you proud.

With Love & Gratitude,

-The Poets’ Asylum Staff.

Current Location: worcester, ma
how i'm feeling: sad sad

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I had a talk with someone this morning about how I rarely call out someone I know publicly when I think they are wrong or off-base. I would rather call out people when they do something I think is worthy. I would rather focus on the positive. Even my most cutting statements tend to have a thread of hope running through them.

& then sometimes I break that rule…


“Being competitive is amazing: you become more aware of what's successful, why it's successful, and how you can respond to (or challenge) the dominant mode; you become forward-thinking, constantly searching for bright new ideas; you shed yourself of self-imposed rules that held back your success; you shed your weaknesses through rigorous self-critique. Most people will tell you that competitiveness is the death of art--it's no coincidence those same people are rarely successful themselves--because they don't understand the internal growth that competitiveness embodies, but rather focus on the outward validation. These people are Muggles! Don't listen to them! Opportunities through competition have let me tour endlessly, see the world, perform on HBO and commercials, meet incredible friends and lovers, and completely live the dream. If that's the "death of art," then I am the world's happiest zombie.”

-Alvin Lau


Competitiveness & Slam
(or why I think Alvin is wrong)

Alvin likes to point out (at just about every chance he gets) how important competitiveness is. (& by competitiveness he implies competing against others in the field) He extols the virtues of competition. Read his statement above. In his world, if you are not competitive you are a weak looser who never does anything new or challenging. You have no concept of self-critique, are held back by rules & will never know the success of having your image used to sell a product. God, you’ll miss out on being broadcast on HBO for Christ sake! HORROR!! How could you let yourself miss out on all the money & sex & fame?!? Stupid Muggles!

Yeah, right.

Competitiveness has an important place in art, but it has almost nothing to do with competing against others in the field.

If competing against others in the field made great art then the winners of American Idol would all be creating epic songs for the ages, the winning designers from Project Runway would all be household names & selling their clothing by the truck full in Target & Macys, the winners of Work Of Art would have their collections in the Met, & Alvin would be building a new bookcase to hold all his NPS trophies.

Yeah, that ain’t happening.

The best art comes from people who, for the most part, don’t care what anyone thinks about what they do. Great art comes from people pushing their own boundaries for their own reasons, not from people trying to figure out what will work best on HBO or in a cash slam. When an artist speaks from their heart, because they can do no less, people will listen. Sometimes only a few people listen, sometimes millions. van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime. The New York Dolls never had an album go above #129 on the charts. Jack McCarthy never made finals at NPS or iWPS.
Are you going to call any of them Muggles?

I didn’t think so.

Art thrives when people have creativity & a need to express what they feel/see/hear.
Every good artist I have ever met has pushed themselves to new levels because they know no other way to get out what is inside them.

Looking for “rigorous self-critique”? Try living inside my head for a few days.

There is not a damn thing that any judge/competitor/critic can say that I have not already thought of 100 times. I am my own worst critic & harshest competition. This is true for most serious artists.

We don’t need a competition to push ourselves to new levels. We push ourselves beyond the breaking point & always question what we do & wonder how to do it better. In the best groups, artists encourage & help each other to become better & push boundaries because we like seeing our peers do wonderful things. We don’t do it because we want validation from a score board or review panel.

I have NEVER changed a poem because of what it scored in a slam & I never would.
I have changed poems because of audience reaction, discussions with peers, changing emotions, the endless quest to get it just right, the internal push to always try to make it better.

There is a difference between the two.

If I can tweak a line or word to help the poem come out closer to what I intended, I win.
If I can get someone talk to me about a poem I wrote, I win
If I can walk away from a reading feeling like I gave everything I had & a bit more, I win
If I score highest in a slam with a poem I’m not feeling, but I know scores well, I lose. I lose big time.

Competition with others does not make great art.
Great artists make great art.

Scoring well in a slam does not make you a great poet.
Scoring well in a slam makes you a high scoring poet.

If you can’t see the difference then this discussion is over…

… You already lost.

******** *********
PS: lest you think otherwise, I like Alvin.
I think he is a good poet, a good performer & a good person.
On this point, however, I think he is wrong. Such is life.

Current Location: worcester, ma

9 calls or talk to me
PART II: Saving or Killing NPS

i have watched slam transform greatly from my first slam in 1991. mostly for the good, but also pockets of bad. slam is, by nature, a weird & wooly beast. it is a shell game, a bait & switch intended to get non-poetry people to sit & listen to poetry while forcing the poets to both entertain & engage the audience. the scoring was the bait, but it was never the goal & to act like it was betrays the core of slam & misses the whole point. ignore what it is NOW, what it started as had everything to do with pushing boundaries, exciting audiences & holding poets accountable to those who were listening.

when i competed in my first slam i was highly critical of it.
scoring poetry?!? what a stupid idea! how could you judge art with score cards? i was appalled.

i didn't get it.

once i realized that none of the poets took the scoring that seriously, that they were more interested in good writing & performance, then i started to get interested in slam. the scoring was a tool, nothing more. it was supposed to be fun & exciting.

flash forward 21 years & it is increasingly becoming ALL about the scores. it is power rankings & seeding & point spreads. it is about winning & claiming the title so that you can go on tour & book the big money gigs & make a name for yourself. it is all about the business of slam. it is building a brand & marketing.

sit down with any of the old timers of slam (& by old timers i mean people who were doing this before PSi existed, not poets who started 5 years ago) & ask them who the “great slam poets” were. you will get a list that is a mix of poets who won & poets who never even made semi-finals. you will hear names that you don't know but should. you will be surprised by names you know who never slammed on a saturday finals stage. why? because when they said “the points are not the point” they meant it.

slam is at a critical point right now. it needs to choose what path it wants to embrace & then follow that path to death or glory. to be honest, without real, foundation-shaking change, slam has about five years before it flies apart. i don't want to see that happen, but am watching it happen like a slow motion train wreck. from my view in the cheap seats, slam & PSi have four paths they can go down...

1. screw the scores – lets slam

strip away any pretence of serious competition & get back to what it was. put the focus back on poetry & taking risks. mess with the poets who take the scoring & strategy seriously. don't announce bout pairings until opening ceremonies. put all the poets’ names in a hat & draw new teams. let semi-finals teams draft poets from eliminated teams. don't show the scores until the bout is finished. read a haiku in your bout. try a brand new piece that has never been tested. read the poem that does not always get the great scores, but means the world to you. break ties with a round of rock/paper/scissors. cheer like crazy for the other teams. sit down with the other teams ahead of time & figure out a theme for the evening that you all will follow. pick a phrase that you all will add to your poem during the slam. (this was done at the '05 iWPS finals) read your heart out & stop caring about the scores. make the winning team buy the drinks.

2. make it all about the scores

so many poets take slam so seriously that perhaps it is time to let it evolve into a serious competition. to do that, the structure would need to be tailored to a formal format. it can be done, but would take some serious restructuring. to begin with, the slam would need to be standardized. if you want serious competition the playing field needs to be even & consistent. every local slam would have to adhere to the same format so that all poets coming to NPS were coming based on the same rules. that means consistent time keeping, bout rotation, selection process, repeat rules, & access. judging at the national level (if not the local level) would have to stop being “5 drunks in a bar”. judges would have to be experts who all judged using the same criteria. (think gymnastics or ice skating) set a standardized scoring template that the judges would use. rank teams on a set standard that leaves no room for personal bias. if you want it to be a serious competition then treat it as such.

3. keep trying to ride the “middle path”

keep plodding along like it has been. keep having the same arguments about the same issues until something finally snaps & there is a huge split in the group. frankly, slam is just about at that point now. (i'd say less than a year away) the body has gotten so large & the issues so touchy that people are choosing sides & soon one of those sides is going to split off. when that happens, slam is, for all intents & purposes, finished.

4. start over (the Etch-A-Sketch option)

the changes being floated around are akin to trying to change the tires on a car while still driving 60mph. slam needs a major make-over. the issues are large &, in many cases, philosophical. perhaps the best thing to do (& something i think slam should have done years ago) is take a year off from NPS & use the time to start over. (perhaps it would be easier now then it would of before because now, with WOWPS & iWPS, there are still big events happening.) rather than having an NPS one year have a “constitutional congress”. gather together the slammasters, poets, old timers, hosts, supporters, & start from scratch. take all the accumulated knowledge & experience & screw-ups & successes & decide what slam wants to be in the years ahead. start with a clean slate & see what everyone can agree on. perhaps you pull ideas from iWPS & WOWPS, or look to other, non PSi events for ideas. throw the rule book out & start over. how should teams be picked? what makes a team? regionals or W&YI or a point system or first come/first served or something else? how do bouts run? what is the time limit? what is a group piece? how do we judge? what should we do beyond slam? what is our main goal? what are we trying to do? think long-range & structure for it. it may sound radical to many, but i think it is a rational move.

if slam wants to survive it needs to decide what it is going to be.

Current Location: worcester, ma

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NOTE: if you have no interest in poetry slams you can skip these posts.
you will be board & confused by them.


for the first time in 23+ years i have no poetry business to attend to. i am not running a reading or slam, not booking features, not hosting, no gigs booked, no committees to sit on, no flyers to post, no poets to coach. i am reading at a LGBT fundraiser at a church on saturday & that is that. officially i am now simply a poet.

but 23+ years of thoughts are cluttering up my head to the point where i can't get any writing done. so, in an effort to clear some space in my head, i'm going to write down my random musings on slam, poetry & performance, then toss it into the cyber void. I’ll be posting them in chunks over the next few days. do with it what you will.

PART I: Where Are They Now?

slam has a poor track record of embracing its past. it has an even worse record of remembering & embracing those who have done the heavy lifting in the past. how many past NPS hosts are still involved in slam? how many have had divorces shortly after hosting? how many former EC members are still active? former slammasters? team & indie champions?

with few exceptions, once someone has served their use in slam they are forgotten. perhaps we drag a few out for a “legends showcase” where we let them read a poem, but the slam, as a whole, is poor when it comes to its institutional memory. we love the idea of “slam elders” but can’t name them & don’t want to actually want to learn about them.

part of what makes Scott Woods a damn good president of PSi is the fact that he listened to those who came before him. he may not have agreed with what was said, but he listened & learned. Steve Marsh knows more about slam & its history than just about anyone else. some of my greatest moments in slam have been arguing with him over one idea or another. i may not always agree with him, but dammit i respect the hell out of him because he knows the history & understands how important it is. i feel the same way about Patricia Smith, Danny Solis, Phil West, Mike Brown, Deb Marsh, etc, etc. we are letting/have let these people fade away &, in doing so, loose a big part of our history. we need to do something to change that.

a good first step would be to start gathering their work. a series of publications showcasing the vibrant & diverse poetic history of slam is long overdue. Gary Mex Glazner’s anthology, "Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Spoken Word" is a great book & good start, but we, as a family, should be continuing to help keep their work accessible & passing it along to the next generation. to be blunt, we have already started losing members of our family. we don't have the time to dither around.

another good step would be to try bringing some of these people back into the fold. start getting them to recount their stories, bring them in to mentor, start a legends slam league (an idea I started working on last year), start a slam hall of fame online, start a database of local slam histories, build a solid history that people can see & hear & learn from. learn the names of the people whose shoulders you are standing on. stop letting our past slip away from us.

if slam wants to have a future it needs to remember & honor its past.

Current Location: worcester, ma

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continuing my (ever growing) list of songs that i think are perfect...

Perfect Songs – Part III
Read more...Collapse )

Current Location: worcester

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Perfect Songs – Part II
(i posted part I yesterday)

the ever growing list...Collapse )

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Perfect Songs – Part I

this is simply a list of songs that I think embody what music can & should be.
it is not a complete list (hence “Part I”) but a good starting point. I’ll add to it as I can.
I encourage you to come up with your own lists & to comment on mine.
the idea is not to speak as an authority on this, just to give you a peak at what I think.

hope you get a kick out of it.

the list...Collapse )

Current Location: worcester, ma

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yeah, i'm still here.

visited 35 states (70%)
Create your own visited map of The United States
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hey hot_rod_poet, someone has written a response to "Scratch and Dent Dreams"...

Current Location: worcester, ma

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i had an amazing time in the Northwest.
great people, great shows.
a wonderful time.
i'll post a recap this weekend.

i'm glad to be home.

Current Location: worcester, ma

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After 15 years i'm finally going on tour. (or at least a mini tour)
i'll be doing 5 shows in the Northwest next month...

Sat, Nov. 13
Art Kitchen
Olympia, WA
I'll be doing a performance workshop in the afternoon & a feature at night

Sun, Nov 14
Portland Poetry Slam
Portland, OR

Mon, Nov 15
Amadeus Project
Bellingham, WA

Tues, Nov 16
Seattle Poetry Slam
Seattle, WA

Thur, Nov. 18
3231 Creatives
Everett, WA

Then right after Thanksgiving i'll be doing a handful of shows in New England...

Thur, Dec 2
Providence Poetry Slam
Providence, RI
may pull something special out for this one

Fri, Dec 3
Feels Like Ohm Coffee
West Warwick, RI

Sun, Dec 12
Worcester Poetry Slam
Worcester, MA
Semi-Final Slam & Venue Warming
The Poets' Asylum is moving to WCUW & this is our first evening there.
i'll be hosting the semi-finals that night & breaking in the new stage.

Sun, Dec 26
Worcester Poetry Slam
Worcester, MA
this is my birthday feature!
expect something very special (perhaps a "one time only" set)

if you want more info on any of the shows just drop me a note.
hope to see you there!

Current Location: worcester, ma
how i'm feeling: bored here
what i'm hearing right now: Al Green - Love & Happiness

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from Scott Woods...

Dear PSi members,

We have had a change of venue for iWPS 2010. Due to unavoidable circumstances we are unable to provide you with the level of quality you’ve come to associate with our events in Philadelphia with what time we have left on the calendar. To ensure that the event continues to move forward and succeed we are moving iWPS 2010 to Charlotte, where we’ve had great success with iWPS in the past. The host city team will largely consist of the same crew that gave us successful events before, and will be utilizing resources and venues we’re familiar with.

The date for iWPS will conversely be switched to early December dates. We will have that information for you very soon. Also, registration will likely open one week later than we planned, but still well before the end of August.

Those of you who have been around a while know that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes we can’t get every resource lined up the way we’d like to ensure the kind of event we’ve been able to provide in recent years, and we waited as long as we could before making this decision. We will continue to do everything we can to alleviate this type of change in the future.

We thank you for your patience and support, thank Sherod and Philly for their efforts to date, and look forward to seeing many of you at what will be an awesome event in Charlotte this December.

Scott Woods
Poetry Slam, Inc.
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first off, i will miss seeing you with all my heart.

you are my family & i love being able to recharge my soul by spending time with you. i won't be there in body this year, but my heart & soul will be with you. (& you had better send updates, dammit!)

while you are at NPS please take some time to do a few things for me...

* take a few moments to remember Gabrielle. not with sadness at her passing, but with celebration for a life lived to the fullest. she loved you & loved the family with a passion that will always be felt. she will be there with you... when you step to the mic, when you meet a new poet, when you laugh by the pool.

when you speak from the stage you are speaking for Gabrielle & Shannon & Lisa & Pat & all of our family who have passed. do their voices & memories justice. they are counting on you to speak for them now. don't let them down.

* also remember those who are fighting the good fight, who could use your love & support & good energy now. send them all you can from the bottom of your soul.

raise a glass of whatever you are drinking to Marty (who is tougher than all of you combined) & let him feel your love & energy. raise a glass to all those in our family who could use some extra love right now. we need to have each others backs.

* give Steve Marsh a hug for me. he has served this family for a long time & has always acted with love for you. (even when he wanted to ring your necks) he is an amazing man & a good friend & we just can't say thank you enough to him.

* thank the volunteers... the door people & MCs & score keepers & runners & bout managers & EC... these are the people who bust their asses so that you can have your 3 minutes on stage. you take vacation so that you can perform, they take their vacation so that you can perform. without them, this would not exist. buy them a coffee, give them a chapbook, give them a hug.

* & lastly, speak from your heart & soul.

there will be someone in the audience who NEEDS to hear what you have to say. you may not know who it is, but they will be there... waiting. this is your one chance to speak to them. this is your one chance to connect with their heart & perhaps even change their life. don't blow it!

poetry is a conversation. your 3 minutes on the stage is the start of that conversation. speak clearly & honestly from your heart & soul. make what you have to say count.

then shut up & listen.
really listen

because there will be a poet onstage this year who will read a poem that you NEED to hear. they will speak from their heart & soul, clearly & with honesty. listen to what they have to say. it might just change your life.

you are my family & i love you.
-rev. bill macmillan

Current Location: worcester, ma

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From the Poetry Slam, Inc. forums:


I am pleased, in a bittersweet way, to report further developments in the day-to-day operation of PSi regarding staffing.

At the end of August, Steve Marsh, our longtime - and only - Executive Director since PSi’s creation in the mid-90s, will be stepping down to pursue other ventures and spend more time with his family and mountainous backyard.

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Current Location: worcester, ma
how i'm feeling: shocked wow!

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Current Location: worcester, ma

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"My drifting ship
I still believe in anchors
my heart
I still believe in God."

-- Shannon Leigh
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the view from my window earlier this evening...

Current Location: worcester, ma
how i'm feeling: calm calm

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i just had to break the one i'm happy with.


after...Collapse )

Current Location: worcester, ma

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everytime i think the national slam community has hit a new low someone has to grab a shovel & start digging.

how i'm feeling: angry pissed

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lets start the weekend off right...

Current Location: worcester, ma

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