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Henry Rollins Disses Spoken Word Poetry?

By Harriet Staff

Strange title, to be certain, but check out this article from the Los Angeles Times.

It begins:

For people familiar with the creative oeuvre of Henry Rollins, his statements as judge at Literary Death Match on Wednesday night were perplexing. “It’s hard to judge literary merit,” he said about two poems performed rousingly by Javon Johnson, declining to give them literary status because they were “basically built for performance.” How odd: Premiere spoken word artist Henry Rollins deeming performance unliterary. Who would have guessed?

Then, later,

Up next were Jeanne Darst, author of the memoir “Fiction Ruined My Family,” and Javon Johnson, a playwright and postdoctoral teaching fellow at USC who has appeared on Def Poetry Jam. Reading from a hardcover copy of her book, Darst began with a literary-focused excerpt and ran out of time as she started a passage about an explicit sex act. Johnson, empty-handed, stepped up to the mic and with little introduction read two long poems, one about women and religion, the other about teaching his nephew lessons about culture and race.

Declining to give a verdict on the literary merit of Johnson’s work, Rollins said that performance is “not about how it’s assembled — it’s about how it hunts and kills.” That was a particularly Rollins-style idea, not to say delicious turn of phrase, framing speaking words to an audience as a lethal pursuit. And since, as a performer, Johnson had killed, it seemed like Rollins might congratulate him for his success. Instead, he backed off making any judgment at all, saying that he didn’t see how he could comment on performance’s literary merit.

“Last night Henry Rollins told me contemporary spoken word poetry is not literature,” Johnson tweeted Thursday morning.

That was how his decision came across. And it seemed like such an odd thing for Rollins in particular, who has recorded spoken word albums and regularly takes the stage as performer. Several conversations I had after, all off the record, focused on the unusual gap between Rollins’ public work and his stance that seemed to claim that kind of work doesn’t have merit.

Full article here.

Posted in Poetry News on Friday, July 13th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.