Performance poetry and cliche

I’ve been to four readings in the past week.  It’s that time of spring where the poets want to share what they’ve been working on all winter.

I saw Climbing Poetree and Buddy Wakefield do some performance poetry.  I wrote a review about it in the Oberlin Review.

It was immediately apparent while watching Climbing Poe Tree that much of the nine performed poems at the ’Sco seemed to be made of well-worn expressions. One poem, introduced as “Being Human,” consisted of common objects personified then queried if they felt human emotions — “I wonder if stars wish/ upon themselves before they die/ if they need to teach their young to shine.” They spoke bluntly during another poem from their recent project, “Hurricane Season,”— “FEMA got folded up in Homeland Security’s back pocket” —while a slideshow of clipart and stock photos faded in and out behind them.

During their set, Climbing Poetree told a joke that I’ve heard many times before.  It’s a pickup line joke, where it’s funny because (ostensibly) because the pickup line is so bad that it’s funny.  The version told by Climbing Poetree goes like this:

“Girl, are you tired? / Because you’ve been running through my mind all night.”
It drew huge laughs from the 70-strong crowd.  To me, the line was crude, unoriginal and “played out.”  But the audience clearly disagreed with me.  Was it because of the re-contextualization of the line–a lesbian doing a sleazy dude’s come-on in a love poem?–or perhaps because most gathered in the room hadn’t heard the line before and were laughing at its innate cleverness? (it is pretty clever, in my opinion.)  Perhaps it is because these two women were connected in a live-performer-to-audience fashion (like at a U2 concert) and we all know that great audience-connecting songs aren’t always the most linguistically original (it’s a beautiful day! WOOO!)

Therefore my question changes: does it makes more sense to consider performance poetry as closer aligned with the performance aspect as opposed to the poetry side?


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