Fair disclosure: I’m a poet, and I’m a self-proclaimed geek. And even I can appreciate that maybe people don’t necessarily associate the two. Especially not geeks and slam poetry. I mean, the steoetypical geek, if he writes poetry, writes angst-ridden love poems to the barbarian princesses of distant planets, or to Deanna Troi, and then never shows them to anyone, right? Slam? That thing where people get up on stage and strike fire into their audiences with their verbal mastery, captivating performances and emotional intensity? Aren’t nerds supposed to be shy, awkward, retiring folk, only truly comfortable with their computers and 20-sided dice?
So what are they doing getting up on the mike and pulling roars and cheers and sighs from their audience?
The – to use its official title – Steve Sauve Memorial Nerd Showcase, part of the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, seemed to me to be just that: a celebration. Featuring Nadine Thornhill and Bart Cormier, who put together a beautifully shaped - “adorkable” - joint performance that even included a little soft shoe (at the urging of the audience), the show was hilarious and smart. Rather like nerds themselves.
What constitutes geek poetry? It turns out that it’s not just that geek poetry is about math or science fiction or Batman. Sure, the geek references flew like laser fire at the Battle of Yavin: it helps to know why it would hurt to step on a Warhammer 40K figure, what “Sayyadina” means, and why it’s funny to say “I’m your differential / touching all your curves.” But there’s also, built into it, a shared experience of having at some point in your life felt like an outsider, like you just didn’t fit into society, and of having found other likeminded people along the way, because face it, there was a room full of other likeminded people there. All nerds and geeks have felt like that at some point – but then, hasn’t everyone?
So the poetry that came out at the showcase was also universal: funny, bawdy, touching, moving, encouraging. At first glance you wouldn’t think Nadine Thornhill’s poem “Loser,” which she premiered at this event, had a particularly geek-centric theme, but the basic idea of it – having been convinced at some point that if you didn’t excel at something by society’s standards, you shouldn’t try, and learning that in fact you had every right to play even if you were bad at the game – speaks to anyone who was picked last for gym class sports.
Sure, there were blaster-rifle and jumpsuit-laden odes to classic SF, there were slightly obsessive and terribly funny love letters to Natalie Portman, there were Monty Python references, there was a poem combining Kraftwerk and Ricardo Montalban, there were allusions to Warcraft, hit points, Doctor Who and Dune, and there were self-deprecating appearances of inhalers and retainers and acne and all the other nerd stereotypes; but these were also poems about unrequited love and about loving (or lusting after) someone’s mind more than their body, they were about finding community, and about dreaming big. There were superheroes aplenty. And yeah, there was also an opening ‘sing-along’ performance of Steve Sauve’s signature ‘Clarion Call (The Geek Poem.)’
Bart Cormier might have gotten the loudest shouts of the night with his poem that announced, bluntly, that geeks, nerds, poets, artists, and all their ilk are not cool. Absolutely not cool. Because ‘cool’ doesn’t care. ‘Cool’ has seen it all, done it all, and thought it was lame before anyone else even discovered it. By those lights, the enthusiasms, the passions, the obsessions, the loves, the joys, and the creativity of poets (and geeks, and nerds, and artists, and sculptors and dancers and all the others) are decidedly uncool. “I am not cool,” he thundered. “You are not cool.” And the whole room joined in to yell, “WE ARE NOT COOL!”