“Monday For Nothing and Your Poetry For Free” by Daddy Phantom
Here at Rock Paper Spirit, there’s nothing we enjoy more than welcoming other writers to contribute to the site. Today we’re welcoming poet, Daddy Phantom. I met Daddy Phantom online a few weeks ago and we hit it off, so I was delighted when he agreed to contribute a guest post! Please let us know if you enjoy his blog in the comments and head over to his Twitter profile to connect with him.
“If you’re good enough at something, never do it for free.” – The Joker (Heath Ledger) The Dark Knight, 2008
It made perfect sense to me, in 2008, I had been a working performance poet for at least five years by then, and we all know that the average performance poet doesn’t make any money from the art form. If performance poets didn’t recite for free, at least 75% of us wouldn’t publicly perform at all. The way that venues use poets is part of the problem. Although some of us are bad, while others are mediocre at best, a large percentage of poets have excellent skills and deserve to be treated better by the entertainment world. The exploitation becomes voluntary because we’re lyricists, and we write and speak to be heard by an audience.
“There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.”- Sun Tzu.
That’s what my mentor told me some 15 years ago when I started performing and touring with my poetry. That’s a quote from the Art of War by Sun Tzu, but my mentor told me to apply this tactic to my art, and I did. I started making poetry videos. Afterward, I made current event videos called Information with Relevance that featured a relevant poem after every story. Heck! I even made vegetarian cooking videos. I did television interviews, hosted open mics, hosted poetry workshops at schools, traveled to faraway places, spoke at activist rallies, and collaborated with musicians, singers, and MCs. I did all of that to promote my lyrics. Appealing to the masses was never the intention. Keeping my creativity alive was.
“Do what you love, and the money will follow.” – Marsha Sinetar
When I told one of my many cousins that I was a poet, his response was: “Do you make any money off of that?” There lies the issue with labeling yourself a poet, and not an IT person, construction worker, etc. There are stereotypes associated with an artist that makes some of us want to duck our creative heads in the sand, and I believe as poets, we are partially the ones to blame.
As members of the western culture, we are bred to believe that nothing is free. I think that a poet should polish their skills before that poet considers charging for their services, but it seems that every venue that promotes poetry expects veteran poets to pay their dues to each time they perform at a different place. Buy our drinks and food. Invite your friends to come to see you so they can spend money on out slowest nights too. Repeat this process two or three times (if you’re lucky), and if the host likes you enough, you can be a paid feature!
Anyone who knows how to read, write, and speak can write and recite a sonnet, ballad, haiku, or freestyle poem. Then again, anybody with a driver’s license can drive a Toyota, Honda, Mercedes Benz, or a Cadillac, but it takes training and more skill to drive on Scotland’s Knockhill Racing Circuit. Not everyone with the ability to drive can hop into their Nissan Sentra and compete on that level. After Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam began in 2002, there was a flood of performance poets, and anyone with an independent coffee shop had one night a week dedicated to performance poetry (usually on the slowest night of the week). When Def Poetry Jam ended in 2007, ninety percent of those venues who supported us, ceased to exist. The ones who didn’t shut their doors, no longer support performance poets.
On the other hand, the Knockhill Racing Circuit started in an unused mineral mine railway in 1974, and it’s evolved into a circuit that features some of the most competitive British automobile championships. They didn’t get there by allowing cab drivers to compete on their course. Performance Poetry cannot evolve without a venue strictly dedicated to performance poetry that features a lineup of the best poets every time they open the doors to the public.