There is something quite wonderful and magical that happens when, as individuals, we are exposed to an experience for the first time; an experience that takes us to a place we've never been before, and moves us beyond our wildest imaginings. One that causes us to pause and regroup, re-examine what fulfills us, and then draws us back in for more. To stir and kindle something deep within, that ignites after re-visitation, is the seat of true inspiration.
When one encounters pure genius, pure talent, pure enjoyment, it's akin to being at a basketball match and witnessing the greatest slam dunk taking place in front of you. You know that feeling of elation, the shiver down your spine, that tingly feeling inside of euphoria, when the likes of Lebron James or Kobi Bryant rise above the plane of the net's rim and put the ball through the basket. It's not just worth the 2 points it adds to the score board. It's creates a whole new level of engagement with the audience. It is not merely the ball that is taken to new heights, but the artform as a whole.
They by no means invented the slam dunk, which had first emerged in the early 20th century, (click here to read more about this if you wish The history of the slamdunk ), but they sure as hell went a long way to perfecting it! They tinkered and retuned the artform, adding in the wow factor, and are part of a generation of players that challenged the norm, stepped outside the zone, and proceeded to change the game, for the better.
It became more exciting, more alluring, more engaging. More visual, more artistic, more interesting. (I may get shot for that last one! lol). Kobe added art to his performance which massively elevated his game and his appeal. In 1997 Kobe won the NBA Slam Dunk contest as a Rookie, and the commentators were blown away saying he "added style and rhythm" to the game.
Now this piece is not actually just about basketball, it's about the mastery of art in performance and performance in art (and Kobe was a master!), and is actually inspired by my introduction to a genre of poetry known as slam poetry.
Now, I don't know if you know what slam poetry is or whether you've even heard of it before. Perhaps you've come across it and simply did not know that there was a specific name to describe it. Slamming in poetic circles is the art of delivering one's own poetry as performance poetry, and examples stretch back to well known classics such as Robert Lee Frost and Lewis Carol (both of whose writings I adore!) although clearly I have never been privy to a live performance (or even a recorded one). The poet performs spoken word poetry before a live audience and audience participation is encouraged. As with any genre of the written word, there exists a spectrum from brilliance to mediocrity but boy am I ever so pleased that my introduction to this artform came in the guise of Neil Hilborn. Well, I was blown away!
My first encounter was in 2018 when I came across a video clip on Facebook that had gone viral. You may well have seen it yourself. It was a share from Neil Hilborn of his poem "OCD". It was so poignant and was delivered in a way that connected me to him as a poet, as an artist, as a human being. The delivery of slam poetry seemingly removes the traditional barriers that sees poetry reserved for the elite, and opens up the art form to the world. Through the use of dramatic interpretation and delivery, as well as visual production, the audience is drawn into the world of the poet and gripped by their story. It truly elevates the written word to new levels of appreciation and engagement and in my view, changes the poetic sphere for the better.
You have to watch this viral clip of Neil performing "OCD" to truly understand what I mean about the emotional connections that are forged and enhanced through this performance driven artform, which I feel has challenged preconceived ideas of poetry and improved the patina of the written word OCD- Neil Hilborn. One word. Wow!
Another such brilliant example of slam poetry can be found in the works of Amanda Gorman, the first American youth poet laureate who was invited to speak at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Her delivery of her poem 'The Hill We Climb' was watched by millions around the world and touched a lot of lives as it examined contemporary themes of racial justice in America. She said of her poem that "there is space for grief and horror and hope and unity",
source: CNBCand her delivery of the poem connects each of these themes as she in turn connects more deeply with her audience, at levels the written word alone cannot reach. If you haven't had the privilege of seeing it yet, or you fancy revisiting it's powerful message, you can watch it here: The Hill We Climb
I feel truly blessed when my whole being is engaged by art in performance or performance in art. It challenges my preconceptions of the world, elevates my expectations and hopes as a human being and truly excites and fulfills me. It just feels like the complete package. A holistic learning experience. It's honestly a slam dunk for my soul.
I hope you enjoyed reading this piece as much as I enjoyed the process of writing it to share with you.