Sunday, May 10, 2009

White House Poetry Slam or Jam?

One hundred hand picked invites went out across the amber waves of grain and purple mountaintops this week requesting the honor of their presence and granting the bearer entry to the first Obama White House Poetry Slam (Jam?) event. It is designed to celebrate the written word which does not always mean every audience leaves enchanted. Krysten Sinema will represent Phoenix Arizona figuratively and literally at the White House Poetry Slam on Tuesday, May 12th. Georgia will have a local commisioner grooving to the rythmic word in the form of Ashley Bell.

I love the audaciousness of the ode to meaningful words. A voice like James Earl Jones attains sublime, then add the visual as his rich baritone reverberates around the East Room giving power to the poets and playwrights. What will make this interesting is how much will be original work versus recitation which would be more a Poetry Jam, than a Slam. To make it a real Slam, there is judging of the performance art involved which would make it A-W-K-W-A-R-D for attendance by the president and first lady.

The Western canon comprises the oral traditions of Homer and others to create a significant body of work lining the pages of history consisting of poetry and prose. Just before the advent of the Iraq War, Laura Bush canceled a Poetry and the American Voice conference slated for the White House. Energetic anti-war balladeers made up for it holding vociferous slams of sorts outside the North Gate. Jacqueline Kennedy loved books, with a special place in her heart for poetry. Hip hop or urban cool has the opportunity to sit alongside iambic pentameter or dactylic hexameter in White House lore. Hillary Clinton hosted First Readings: An Evening of American Poetry at the White House celebrating certain favorites. Throw down in a little haiku and we could be off to the annual White House Poetry Slam races which would horrify many an academic. (Jones Photo courtesy of Broadway World)

The Obamas are hoping events like this Poetry Slam/Jam create a renaissance for the arts and a renewal of interest in the People's House. Shakespeare is a traditional favorite of most presidents, especially the ones that write memorably, but a real Poetry Slam brings to light the more eclectic scales of the format. Open mic night at the White House would herald some new talent - yet this inaugural White House Slam will also feature younger artists Mayda Del Valle, contemporary novelist Michael Chabon, bassist Esperanza Spalding with an all caps jazz pianist ELEW and Grammy Award winning playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda. Man cannot live by bread alone. The treats and eats are already edible diamonds of the First gold plates at the White House. Now come the sounds and the words. (Chabon signing books)

Esperanza Spalding in Italy. Photo courtesy of Enrico Maioli - derivative by Hugh Pickens
There is a symmetry that Poetry Slams began in Chicago in 1984. There have always been tight ties between jazz, Chicago and poetry. Now the White House turns the spotlight on all three with the president a partisan fan of all three, presiding over his own Jam.

East Wing Rules wishes A Happy Mother's Day to every Mom, from the newest to the most experienced among us! Also great wishes for the Moms who inhabit the White House's East Wing. Mothers Day Poetry Jam/Slam anyone?


Patricia Robinson said...
Tuesday, 12 May, 2009  

Im poet Obama and I love you

QueenTiye said...
Wednesday, 13 May, 2009  

If the Obamas intended for this to be a way of opening up the White House, I love it, but wish the people had been able to see it... I can't find any footage but about a minute and change at

Would LOVE more footage...


Maureen said...
Wednesday, 13 May, 2009  

Greetings QT,

the White House had a great deal of interest in the live streamed event. Their feed was not particularly good or steady. they are promising a clean version today or tomorrow to see it at


Anonymous said...
Thursday, 14 May, 2009  

Love it. I too can't wait to see the footage. East Wing Rules!

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