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Poetry Slam 

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Dear editors,

In Ms. Deanna Isaacs's article in Section Two of the August 16 Reader, "Bad to Verse," Ms. Effie Mihopoulos is quoted as saying that "fest coordinators were upset from past fests when there was a big controversy over obscene and inappropriate imagery in Adam Swinford-Wasem's poetry, which...was broadcast over the loudspeaker throughout the fest." Let me first make clear, though, what wasn't clear from Ms. Isaacs's article, that I have never read my poetry at the Sam Adams fest before, and that, furthermore, I was the last poet scheduled and was not even present until half an hour before the fest was to end, long after the events described in the article had taken place.

As for Bucktown arts fest coordinators being upset, no coordinators have ever expressed displeasure with anything I have read or done in the four years I have read there. Ms. Mihopoulos may be referring to an incident two years ago, in the 2000 Bucktown fest, when another performer was widely applauded for a piece mocking Christ and Christianity, supposedly from the viewpoint of Pontius Pilate. As I found the piece simplistic and one-sided, and as I happened to have a piece of my own about the Passion story, I felt it my duty as a Christian writer to give a balanced portrait, hoping in the process to remind the audience of just what exactly they were applauding. Part of the piece describes the awful things that were done to Jesus, in language that fits the depicted situation: "No, not just mockery, and whips / the crown of thorns, the spit / he surely suffered rape / yes, urine, semen, shit." It's true, Mr. Laity did cut off the power supply to the loudspeaker during my set, and I finished it unamplified. But aside from Mr. Laity's censoring action, no one else that day, neither organizers nor audience members--nor Ms. Mihopoulos, whom I, in fact, spoke with several times during that fest--expressed disapproval of or discomfort with what I had said. The intent and point of my poem seemed so benign and intrinsically moral I didn't see then or now how anyone could be morally damaged by it. And I don't see how anyone could judge the language I used as obscene unless they completely ignore the context and intent behind it, which is an absurdity, as the words themselves would have no meaning. When words themselves start to become forbidden is when the book burnings begin.

Ms. Mihopoulos also is mistaken about poetry being "broadcast over the loudspeaker throughout the fest." In fact, there were always several sets of loudspeakers at the fest, one of which, for the rock stage, I remember always having to struggle to be heard over. It seems strange that Ms. Isaacs has included such a slanderous statement in her story, especially considering she hasn't bothered to contact me or to make any other effort to find out what really happened. One would think a Reader writer would have higher standards.

Adam Swinford-Wasem

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