To the uninitiated, the phrase “poetry slam” – particularly the latter of the two words – can conjure up a sense of highly charged dynamic which may even tend towards behavior of an unsavory ilk, if not downright violence.
In fact, there is absolutely nothing threatening about the format of a cavalcade of poets getting up on stage, doing their bits, and being rated by the audience. On the contrary, it harps back to far gentler times when people would gather in the town square to hear a minstrel strum his way through a ballad about some forlorn lovestruck lad.
Romance will surely feature in the delivery of Prufrock Shadowrunner, a leading member of the international poetry slam fraternity. The Ottawa, Canada-based Pruf, as he prefers to be called, is in Israel to take part in the Slamstival event, taking place in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, December 25-29, under the auspices of the Incubator Theater which operates from Bet Mazya in Jerusalem.
Slamstival is the country’s inaugural international poetry slam and, in addition to the Jamaican- born Pruf, features championship- winning competitors from Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Japan and Russia, as well as the cream of local poetry slammers.
Prufrock Shadowrunner can thank TS Eliot both for his adopted sobriquet and his current line of work. Pruf’s literary epiphany happened about 20 years ago.
“I was around 10 or 11 when I really decided to play around with words,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“I used to write a lot of fun songs.
I’d write songs about Star Trek movies and Coca Cola when I was about 9 or 10.”
Pruf’s writing endeavor was put on hold for a while, during his teen years. “Let’s say I wasn’t the most avid English student,” he recalled.
“I guess I found the way it was taught boring.”
However, unknowingly, Pruf’s English teacher provided his lessthan- enthused student with the necessary push in the direction of what became an enduring love of word sculpting.
“He told me that if I didn’t do an assignment I would fail, and he made me read a poem by TS Eliot called The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock.”
The die was well and duly cast.
“While I was reading it I found myself being drawn in by it, and I thought: wow, I didn’t realize people could write stories on a level like this where it doesn’t have to be so dry. Soon after that I started looking into writing casually for myself.”
Pruf opted to take the leap and bare his poetic soul to the public around eight years ago when he decided to go onstage and read one of his poems.
“I heard once that a poem is not a poem until it is shared. So I tried it out and I’ve never looked back since that,” he said.
Reciting poetry, however artistic it may be, is a very different discipline than, say, playing an instrument or exhibiting a painting. Poetry comprises words that have dictionary meanings, even the same words can take on slightly differing nuances for different people. Pruf says he takes an interdisciplinary approach to his craft.
“The key is to paint pictures with your words,” he noted, adding that he allows his listeners as much leeway as possible. “I write on a sort of broad scale, that way it can be interpreted by whoever the listener is in whatever way they want to interpret it. I may tell my stories from my perspective, but that may come across differently to somebody else.
And that’s fine.”
Pruf said that his poetry is a means of airing his views about the world, as well as letting off some personal emotional steam. However, he said he is wary of erring on the heavy side.
“For a long time I used to cover issues of race, and things like that, but as I started writing more and being excited, I was more conscious of what was happening around me and I decided to branch and write a lot more comedy. There a lot of things in the world which aren’t very nice all the time,” he added with abundant understatement.
“As much as we poets like to take ourselves seriously we can’t be serious all the time. That can make you boring.”
It is safe to say that, over the last few years, Pruf has conclusively shown himself to be anything but dull. “He explained that he likes to get on the stage and feel that the audience is wondering what he is going to talk about this time. That can sometimes entail throwing his listeners a little off balance, if not shake them up a mite.
“There are a lot of things I’d like to say, but not because of a fear of backlash, there are things I say depending on what my audience is like,” he said. “If I have a predominantly black audience there are certain things I might say, or if I have a predominantly male audience there are certain topics I can talk about. We live in a society now where everybody seems to be easily offended. I like to call everybody terminally thin-skinned.”
That doesn’t mean that Pruf always skirts around potential minefields. “It’s not that I don’t take risks, but they are calculated,” he said.
Then again, Pruf is hardly likely to get on the stage in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week and tiptoe his way through his performance. “I’m really not concerned about what other people think of me. If I’m wrong I’d rather find out for myself than have somebody else tell me,” he said.
And, in case you were wondering about latter part of Pruf’s nom de plume. “I just thought Shadowrunner sounds kinda cool, nothing else,” he laughed. “I don’t know if the name is engaging, but I guess people might hear the name and think ‘who the hell is that guy’?” We’ll be wiser about that when the proceedings kick off Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Bascula in Tel Aviv, followed by a couple of slots at the nearby Levontin 7 venue on Monday and Tuesday (5 p.m. and 8 p.m.). Jerusalemite poetry fans can catch some of the action at the Noctorno café and performance facility at 8:30 pm on Monday. The first item of each of the two Levontin 7 double-headers is free. The country’s poetry slam debut will conclude at Hangar 11 at the Tel Aviv Port, at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, when the country’s leading poetry slam artisans will vie for the title of national champion, and entry to the world championship which will take place next year in Paris.
For tickets and more info about Slamstival: http://bit.ly/2fSousk. For tickets about the December 29 final: http://bit.ly/2e8Wep7