Anis Mojgani Interview
7: Can you talk briefly about how slam has made reading and reciting poetry relevant to a younger audience and what, if anything, you think this says about our culture... the idea that poetry has become somewhat fashionable?
Mojgani: I think it’s awesome that poetry is becoming popular. I think that slam has definitely been helpful in exposing wider audiences, particularly younger ones, to what poetry is and can be. Because it creates a community of writers that are real people simply expressing their ideas and sharing their experiences, it’s able to breed a feasibly more relevant poetic relationship between the artist and the audience. Youth are able to be exposed to a rawer, realer, and at times flashier showing of poetry, and because it’s poetry that suddenly seems “cool” as opposed to not being something that is relatable, as much poetry taught in schools is, younger folks are able to be introduced to poetry and develop an affinity to it, and thus hopefully be led back into that earlier less accessible work.
The more people who give poetry a chance, I’m all for it. It also feels really awesome the thought of folks going out on the town to experience poetry.
7: Can you talk about where slam falls with respect to other, similar performance arts such as music, stand up comedy, cabaret and theatre?
Mojgani: Vulnerability, I feel, is one of the most important things in making art. It shares with others a specific human experience and thus helps to dissolve the lines we throw up between us. Becoming vulnerable helps expose more to all of us what being human is.
While all arts are sharing the artist’s experience, what I feel separates spoken word from other forms is that there is little to no buffer between the artist, the art, and the audience. The artist has the opportunity to fully expose what they are and make themselves incredibly vulnerable, and directly to the people around them without any buffer of film or canvass or fiction or guitar; there’s only the free expression of what’s inside a person’s heart and opening that to a body of people.
In regards to slams specifically, what makes it different is that it’s an arena of art making that also has larger social implications, as it strives to cut elitism out of the picture. It puts the power of choice and opinion into the hands of the people as opposed to the artist, and thus makes the artist have to work that much harder on the crafting of their work. Also with the directness of the medium it has the power to more directly inspire a body of viewers.
7: How do you think slam relates to hip-hop? Are the two connected, or easily separated?
Mojgani: There’s definitely a connection. A lot of slam over the past decade has been heavily influenced by the hip-hop medium. The generation surrounding us right now has grown up immersed in hip-hop culture and so as slam and spoken word grows in popularity, a larger number of people who are coming from being raised with hip-hop are coming to the table with that in their voice.
Hip-hop sells. Hip-hop makes money. There are a number of folks who get into slam as a means to an end. “If I do this, I can use it as a stepping stone to something bigger” or “Here’s an arena where people will listen to what I have to say” and all that they’ve been experienced to is a world of hip hop, so it can be heavily emulated.
In addition, I think there’s a bridge between the two worlds, in that hip-hop has roots in rap battling, in competition, in braddagio – and that is something similar to the slam.
7: Can you talk about the whole idea of this tour and how it came together? Is this totally indepedent and artist-run? How did it come to be and what's the philosophy?
Mojgani: Mike and Dan wanted to tour together. I wanted to tour with Derrick. Mike invited me to join him and Dan, I mentioned Derrick, we brought him into the mix, and then we asked Buddy to join us to round out the kick assedness of what we were doing. We then started hitting all our contacts to start putting together dates and tried to procure sponsorships and started putting our products together.
It’s all from us. We were lucky enough to receive boxes upon boxes from Annie’s Homegrown products, so (we) received a messload of graham and cheddar cracker snacks, cereal, and mac and cheese, from the independent and organic company, which is totally awesome. Also a friend of ours was able to procure us a gas card which has been a big help. But other then that it’s all on our shoulders.
7: Do you think written poetry is going the way of the dinosaur with the options presented by technology, Myspace, Youtube, etc.?
Mojgani: I hope not. I think that with this new technology it can add a wider circle of what poetry can be and what, as poets, we can create and get to a wider circle of people with a lot more ease. Poetry’s been around since the inception of humanity, and though there’s been so many more leaps in technology in recent history, I would hope that poetry would be able to hold its own.
7: What about the emphasis on competition with slams? Is that placing too much value on the performance and entertainment aspect over the pure craft of writing and sharing for the sake of expression and connection?
Mojgani: It all depends on the individual. Competition can definitely take away from the expression of it, but for a lot of folks the competition is only the tool to get the work to people. The competition also puts the writer in a place, hopefully, of having a continuous drive to create work, though it can also have the downside of poets resting on what has already worked in competition. But really without having the excitement of the contest, all you’ve got is a poetry reading, and a lot of folks aren’t down with experiencing that, so as stated, it’s a workable tool to put ears into seats.
7: Finally, how is the pay?
Mojgani: Hehe. Good some days, bad others. It definitely is the most money I’ve ever made, but there are definitely slow parts of the year that make me wonder where the rent is coming from. But if one gets their hustle on and the right opportunities come their way, there’s really good pay to be had.