Category Archives: SlamMN

The Laziest Critic

While we were workshopping his play, my friend K asked, “But, the question I’ve been wondering is, ‘Does this story need to be told?’ I’ve heard of so many writers who hear that question and realize, ‘My god, what have I been doing?’ Does this story need to be told?”

I have only heard that question a handful of times. The person asking typically offers this and nothing more to the conversation and everyone stumbles around trying to answer, eventually arriving at “No,” because there is no way to answer that question. I’ve never bothered trying because the question deserves no response.

In my first workshop, R said that for every story there is some merit to compliment and some deficiency to criticize. I agree with that, but I’ve met too many people that favor the latter over the former.

There are a lot of good questions to ask when you’re critiquing a story. What’s at stake? What do the characters want? Where is this going? Etc. (and insert specificity). If things are unclear and you’re pretty sure they aren’t meant to be, you should ask a question.

“Does this story need to be told?” is the laziest critique I’ve ever heard.

If you can’t come up with a better reason to question the merit of another person’s story, you’re not trying hard enough.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t something wrong with the story (there is always something that could be better), but asking “Does this story needs to be told,” probably means 1.) You don’t like it for aesthetic reasons (which is perfectly fine, but useless to the writer), or 2.) You think it’s unoriginal, which I would argue is not necessarily a bad thing.

As Zero Punctuation pointed out, there was absolutely nothing original about The Last of Us. It was just a typical action-adventure, zombie-post-apocalyptic, survivor-horror video game. If you know the genres, you probably could’ve gone down a checklist of all the tropes and not missed a single one. However, what makes The Last of Us stand above all the others is that it was a Great action-adventure, zombie-post-apocalyptic, survivor-horror game. Yes, there wasn’t anything new, but damn did they do it better than everyone else.

Others have said it more eloquently than me, but if your sole criteria for whether or not something is good is originality, you probably hate a lot of things (like Zero Punctuation, but he’s at least entertaining), which is unfortunate. It’s bad for your heart and quality of life.

But the question of whether or not a story should be told isn’t just ridiculous – it’s offensive. It expresses discomfort or value judgement to subject matter. Good criticism (at least in a workshop) is about craft.

Last Wednesday, I listened to a slam poet friend perform a story at Kieran’s Irish Pub about the first time he masturbated and he turned it into a meaningful commentary on Americans’ discomfort with sexuality. In the same hour, I struggled to pay attention to a man talk about his first-hand experience with rural poverty.

A better anecdote: A teacher of mine told me about how when she was 19 she won the right to go workshop with some Great Writer. When it was her turn, the Great Writer tore her work to pieces and made her cry in front of everyone present. Afterwards he spoke to her privately, “For the next five years, don’t write another word. Go to Rio Grande City in Texas and work there as a waitress for five years. Then you’ll have stories to tell.”

“Bull shit,” my teacher concluded.

Bull shit, I say. An old man tells a young woman that the only worthwhile stories she has to tell are those she gleans from someone else’s tragedy.  No one has the right to tell you your story doesn’t deserve to be told.

We all have worthwhile stories to tell and it’s the telling that matters.

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Filed under SlamMN, Story Slam, Uncategorized, Writing

SlamMN – ed

Kieren’s Irish Pub is expensive and echoes “like a motherfucker.” Our hostess warned us that if we happened to whisper to a neighbor that we thought the person on stage was really hot, he/she could probably hear us. It’s a strange room to have a poetry slam. Giant and vaguely colonial, with a lot of ornamentation on the white painted woodwork. And it’s expensive. Sooner or later, I’ll have to ask someone why they would choose to have a bunch of poor poets meet weekly at a bar in a downtown Minneapolis.

This was my second slam. I was there with friends to support the great Paul Nemeth. Since it was finals selection, all the poets were fantastic, and so I’m going to use that as an excuse not to critique. Though, the highlight of the evening was one Neal shouting out, “They call it bipolar disorder -I all it a superpower!”

Did you know that Harold Bloom called slam poetry “the death of art”? So says Wikipedia. If it’s true (that he said it, and that slam poetry really is art’s death) then what a glorious way to go out.

The death of art is why I moved to the Twin Cities. Or at least part of it. After spending ten months in New Orleans, I was ready for cold weather again, and it was revenge, I’m sure, that I got such a nasty winter. Now it’s 90 degrees outside, demonstrating what a native Minnesota said about the weather: it’s passionate.

But poetry and art and death. I wanted to live in a place where I could find a reading or a play every night and I wouldn’t have to sell parts of my body to pay rent, like in New York. Like most Iowans, I decided that the Twin Cities seemed like a good option. It’s not overwhelming, but large enough to be interesting. And I’ve been spending too much time ignoring it.

I have lived in the Twin Cities for almost a year and I have not yet gotten to know this place. There is so much here to offer. Thanks to Paul, I now know that if I’m ever board on a Tuesday I can get a literary fix at Kieren’s. There’s more, I know. But this is a good start.

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False Starts

On Tuesday, a young woman got on stage at Kieran’s Irish Pub during a story slam and admitted to about thirty or forty strangers she had no idea what she was doing. Her arm was in a cast for the second time in her life. The first time was twenty-one years ago when she was four and she blamed her brother, but it was half her fault, though she never let her parents know.

Then two weeks ago she was drunk and dancing and fell. The hangover the next morning, she said, was the worst she’d ever had and completely concentrated in her left wrist. No one she called could get her to the hospital. So she called her brother, who lives at him with his parents, is a drug addict and a depressive.

“I don’t know where I’m going with this, really,” she said. “It just came to me, like, tonight. That my brother, the one I said broke my arm the first time, whose life is totally screwed up, came to take me to the hospital. He was there when I needed him.”

The audience was pretty harsh that night and she walked away with a five or a six. There’s a certain kind of honesty no one wants to hear.

And she is the inspiration for this post, because I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing either. Or, at least, I wasn’t until I finished retelling the story.

I put off making a personal web page for years because I didn’t know what I wanted to say or how I wanted to portray myself. As an aspiring communications specialist, I’m deeply troubled by inconsistent messaging and style. But then I got sick of waiting.

So, here it is. A web page and blog. Rediscovering my obsessive roots, it’s going to be about the Twin Cities metro literary scene, because that seems to be my preoccupation anyway. For now.

This is why I came up to these cities in the first place and it’s been my poorly conceived mantra: anything with words. And so, I will write about my passion and work from there.

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Filed under SlamMN, Story Slam