Updated: Aug 29, 2022
I couldn’t say no when Madi Giovina of Perennial Press invited us to share their new book release because the author is a very important person to the Kansas City Poetry community. We've reposted this blog with an article by Abby Bland about her most recent book which better shares the author's viewpoint. Enjoy!
Since becoming a competing slam poet, I have started writing with more of an eye towards my readers, my audience. Writing with them in mind has definitely had an impact on my work overall–even the poems I don’t write for slam competitions. Nowadays, I think a lot about what my work can do for other people, not just me. For example, I wrote this poem “How Are You” as a way to process my own grief, but when I turned it into a slam poem it became just as much
about the listener:
“I am” is the shortest complete sentence in the English language. But there's nothing short about being: the brain contains 86 billion nerve cells joined by 100 trillion connections, more than the number of stars in the Milky Way. You, yes you, outnumber a galaxy!”
“How Are You” is the first poem in my book, The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos, and is also the first poem I ever slammed with at the Kansas City Poetry Slam which I now run, along with the Poetic Underground Open Mic. Many of the other pieces in my book were written and performed on that stage. It’s the place where I really learned that words have power and our stories matter. I wouldn’t have been able to write this book without my Poetic Underground community. I found the open mic & slam community during a difficult season. I did not plan to be a “slam” poet. I came from a mostly academic background, where slam has rarely been talked about and often had its validity questioned. Thankfully, in recent years I believe this has begun to shift.
The last thing I did before the world shut down was attend the Woman of the World Poetry Slam. I got into slam a few years ago just after finishing my undergrad. I had no idea what slam was when I started, which I’ve found to be true for a lot of people. It turns out that poetry slam isn’t really just a genre, it is actually a game that was invented in the 80s to bring attention to performance poetry and poetry in general, and it is a lot of fun. I think a large part of what has made slam so successful is that it made poetry accessible to people, especially marginalized writers, that might not otherwise have considered poetry as being something for them to enjoy or participate in.
My favorite part about being the Program Director for Poetic Underground is getting to hear people learn to tell their stories. Performing reminds us why we write in the first place. The community, the interaction with the audience, and that feeling that our words have had an impact. I know that I write because I believe in the power of everyone’s story. After a year like this one, that feels more urgent than ever. Poetry has long been tied up in the academy and has a bad reputation for being hard to understand. Academia is really good at making people feel like they don’t belong. Slam poetry, or spoken word poetry, on the other hand, is all about belonging. I have often said slam is the art of winning an audience over, and they have to be able to understand your poetry for you to be successful. More than that, they need to feel connected to your work, they need to feel like they belong in the room with you.
Like many writers I know, I turned to the page when I found myself unemployed last March 2020. Writing my first book in the middle of a pandemic was not the plan, but I had always expected to get around to publishing my work, but there always seemed to be something in the way. What does it take for poets to focus and prioritize their writing? For me, it was 2020's unique expanse of time and a million things to process. The title of my debut chapbook, The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos, refers to Q, which is a number that measures the degree of non-uniformity in the cocktail of elements in the Big Bang. It measures the chance that our galaxy spiraled into existence, or that we would have stars at all. Taken further, it is also the chance that I would be sitting here writing this, that you would be reading it.
So what are you waiting for? Tell your story. The universe is asking for it, and the world needs it. And after all, the cosmos conspired to get you here.
Abby Bland lives and writes in Kansas City, Missouri. She earned your B.A. in English from William Jewell College she's the current Program Director for the Kansas City Poetry Slam and Poetic Underground Open Mic. Visit www.kansascitypoetryslam.org/ for more info. Check out the online Poetic Underground Events. They are committed to the local and national poetry/slam scene, to developing poetic skill and stage presentation through classes, workshops, themed slams, group rehearsals, and feature shows.
Perennial Press is really happy about our new release, The Odds Against a Starry Cosmos by Abby Bland. It explores the intimacy of human relationships and growth against the backdrop of the natural world, moving through moments of grace, brokenness, and wonder. Enna Kim! Designed this cover for us. They have ongoing submissions for manuscripts on their Submittable page.
Flying Ketchup Press ® is a trademarked small press in Kansas City, Missouri to develop new and diverse voices in poetry and short story. Our dream is to salvage lost treasure troves of written and illustrated work-- to create worlds of wonder and delight; to share stories. Maybe yours. Find us at www.flyingketchuppress.com.
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