Saturday, June 11, 2005

Live Snark: A Brief Look at Heckling

Whenever people discuss poetry slams, they most often talk about the mediocrity &/or freshness of the poets, the scoring system and how slams have opened up the medium to a wider audience. No one really gets on about the hecklers, some of which are better than the poets they heckle at one liners, inventive metaphor and performance. So, here is a little something for the hecklers, those snarling dogs in the audience.

One reason there may not be much talk about the hecklers is because often the audience cannot hear them nearly as well as the poet on the stage can and very few poets are going to recount what sort of punishment they have been given. Also, despite slam's supposed encouragement of heckling, most audience members still have the dated notion that all poetry readings should be quiet and respectful. It is as if people in general have forgotten that poetry can be exhilirating like the chanting of "more, more, more" at Ginsberg's reading of "Howl".

The best hecklers riff off the words of the poet/performer on stage, turning their words against them in witty retorts or caustic challenges. There is an art to heckling that the white-caps and the dullards do not understand, a quality that goes beyond booing, barking, guffawing and insult. Much like the art of the come-back, heckling requires a quick trigger and a boldness.

It is difficult to capture the essence of live snark. Imagine reciting a poem on a stage with a couple of beers in your gut before an audience of about 60 people and someone throws out a line that is funny and better than one of your important lines. Can be a pretty soul-crushing experience. A good slam poet will either improvise or keep going though some people turn tail and run, which is part of the reason for allowing heckling. It gives the audience the opportunity to rid themselves of something that is not worth their time. A great moment is when a slammer will abandon their poem to direct their poetic chops at a heckler much like a comedian dueling with an audience member. In this sense, slams and comedy shows are not much different.

Please use this thread to tell us about any live snark action you have witnessed or engaged in. In the future we will have more reports on this phenomenon.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does it count as a snark if dozens of people leave at a carefully calculated moment during a group reading? Because that happens all the time.

I love your site and wish you posted daily.

- (Another) Anonymous Coward

8:34 AM, June 13, 2005  
Anonymous snark newbie said...

does it count as snark if some of the readers at a group reading leave because the readers before them sucked?

12:00 AM, June 14, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say no, that's just bad timing and faulty planning. Always find out the order of readers beforehand, is my rule.


2:16 PM, June 14, 2005  

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