Poetry News

Louder Than A Bomb opens in NYC, raises questions

By Harriet Staff

Louder Than A Bomb, a documentary about the nation’s largest youth poetry slam, opens today in New York (and is moving across the country afterward). The film follows the trek of four teams of Chicago teens as they prepare for the penultimate competition in 2008. It “reflects their tempestuous lives, exploring the ways writing shapes their world, and vice versa, in a portrait of language as joyful release and of irrepressibly talented teenagers who are forging new communities,” per the release. And as The New York Times notes in its measured but enthusiastic review, when “the filmmakers occasionally let an entire piece be heard, the results are stirring.” The trailer itself is a bit of a tear-jerker, for what it’s worth. More on Young Chicago Authors, the org that presents the slam, here.

Interestingly, Ron Silliman is also writing about the film, as well as the value of verse (both spoken word and just generally presentational), see his post today. He's occupied by a message he received from Laura Winton, who has taken up in her dissertation "the absence of formally progressive poetics in spoken word poetry." Silliman, who has just returned from the mostly white UK Text Festival, questions whether or not a space might exist between the sound poetics that evolved out of Dada and Fluxus and what is now the competitive spoken word scene. Because, as Winton wrote:

For myself, I have seen poetry slam as a weed or virus that is invasive to a community and chokes out all other forms. I base this on my own experience in the Minneapolis spoken word scene and also from talking to others in Chicago specifically. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind poetry slam and its "style" (despite all protestations that there is no such thing), but I would like to see it as only one part of a vibrant spoken word community, and that is rarely the case.

Silliman does see at the heart of Louder Than A Bomb, co-directed by Jon Siskel & Gene Jacobs (the former is indeed the son of the late film critic Gene Siskel, as Silliman points out), the discrepancy between the film's message that "The point is not the point" and the fact that approaching poetry this way, via a complex point system, is questionable. He also focuses on the poets and artists at the White House Evening of Poetry the other week. Billy Collins, he writes, "is not entirely wrong when he jokes that 'the whole point of writing' is closely tied to all manner of anthropological display behavior..." (Collins bragged onstage that his poetry friends were certain to be jealous of his invitation.)

Bringing in the White House event and all its discontents seems at first to convolute the discussion around Louder Than A Bomb, Winton's considerations regarding innovation and the history of spoken word, and the intertwining of poetry and competition, but Silliman does think everyone should see the film.

I just hope that everyone who watches gets [the] line, that “The point is not the point,” rather than, say, Billy Collins’ comment that “the whole reason for writing” is precisely the opposite. They present radically different visions about the value of verse.

Louder Than A Bomb opens today at IFC. A Q&A with the filmmakers in person Wed-Sat.

Originally Published: May 18th, 2011