Sunday, May 27, 2012

Some thoughts from Rachel McKibbens

Fact: Poets get banned from venues. Not often, but it DOES happen, and it's something no one is really sure how to address.


Venues have the choice to air their "banned" list or not, and most decide not to. And that's fine. We can't force them to pass information they don't want to make public. There are many important reasons why a venue/committee shouldn't have to go into specifics, but I also believe it is important for our community to be aware that there are people who have dangerous habits; people who are risks to our community. Second-hand information should be doled out just as cautiously and considerately as first-hand information.

Oh, before I go on: Not every offender is a sex addict and not every sex addict is an offender. Let's just get that out of the way once and for all. There is always a chance for recovery, unless there isn't. And a sexual assault isn’t the only reason for a person to be banned from a venue or scene. I can spend another twelve paragraphs discussing when recovery is possible and when it is unlikely, but ultimately it comes down to: does the person show remorse? Do they accept responsibility or do they always have an excuse for everything? Do they complain about how they are constantly and unfairly being misunderstood? Do they give you so many unnecessary details about a situation that you are confused and/or fatigued and no longer want to deal with the topic you confronted them with? (Man, the “Overtell” is SUCH an interesting device!)

I've only come across three people in ten years who have had an excuse for everything, and each of those times, the people have proven to be serial offenders. There isn't much I can do about it besides warn friends because, unfortunately, the only truly ethical way to thwart a sociopath is by exposure. Arrogance and delusions of grandeur allow them to underestimate the intelligence of those around them. They count on their friends to NOT dig too hard. To trust their flimsy excuse(s). Your weapon against this line of thinking is HOLDING THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE ACCOUNTABLE. Even the most talented people. The people you look(ed) up to. The people you admire and hope to be like. Guess what?! In the end, THEY ARE ONLY PEOPLE. Some tastier than others. Several poets in our community have been put on blast lately, and let me tell you something: IT IS NOT A BAD THING. To them, it feels horrendous. Obviously. To some of us, it feels icky and confusing and we’re still sore about it.

Shit, no one on this planet likes to get exposed for their wrongdoings, and no one likes to feel that they’ve somehow been an enabler to their friends’ shitty behaviour, but guess what? Whether they choose to take it or not, they are now one step closer to becoming better people! Chances are, the recent bans that have taken place have humbled them down to a manageable size. Chances are, our community will benefit from this down-sizing. Chances are you and you and even YOU, all quiet in the corner, have been a part of this massive tidal wave of enlightenment that is helping wash away the bad shit that our scene has assumed was someone else’s problem! Yippee!

Slammers/slammasters/poetry fans, etc. if you have questions or concerns, contact someone you trust in this community. If you have a story that you cannot keep buried any longer, contact someone you trust in this community. If you don’t trust anyone in this community, create a new Gmail account and send an anonymous email to the person you distrust the least in this community. More importantly, TRUST YOUR GUT. If someone made you feel weird or uncomfortable, believe in that feeling. File it away and be mindful of it. Give it a grade. Or a score. Was this person's douchebaggery a 4.5 or a full-blown 9? Even better, WRITE THE INCIDENT DOWN. Include the date and time. That way, if you hear a similar story told by someone else, you are now aware that this was not an isolated incident but a glimpse into patterned behaviour.

There is nothing wrong with asking questions. You are not betraying anyone, you are not spreading rumors, and you are not ruining someone’s life. You are practicing self-preservation. Or maybe even a little bit of activism. You are ensuring that the local high school won’t get their poetry program shut down because you unknowingly allowed a predator onto their campus for an extra-50-bucks-for-gas workshop. You are ensuring that a woman new to this scene won’t open her couch up to another woman who doesn’t understand the meaning of NO.

And for heaven’s sake, be practical. Knowing someone’s poem by heart does not mean you know what they are capable/incapable of. You don’t have to host every person who comes to town. You don’t have to book anyone just because Important Big Name Venues are in their inflated bio. If you’re a slammaster or host, your only job is to be sure the mic works, the money agreed to is the money you pay and that the seats of your venue are filled. Picking people up from the airport or bus terminal, feeding them, making out with them, taking them to Waffle House, knitting them a catsuit, all of that is BONUS SHIT. It should never be expected. Only appreciated.

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