Jesse Parent, Lucifer, Salt City Slam Concept Bout, National Poetry Slam, Charlotte, North Carolina, 2012.
With the passing of the National Poetry Slam due to the the collapse of Poetry Slam Inc, one type of performance poetry that may become obsolete is the concept bout. Playing off of the bout structure of four teams and rounds in a bout, a concept bout is where a team decides to collaborate to create four distinct but related poems that build off of each other throughout the bout. In my second NPS in 2011, we saw this attempted by a MN team called Punch Out Poetry, that attempted to create a concept bout utilizing all members of the team in each poem. Unfortunately, the execution fell short, as there were hiccups with timing and lines. The following NPS in 2012, Salt City Slam put together their own concept bout, opting for individual pieces rather than group pieces.
As I recall, Jesse Parent and Brian Frandsen had attempted to write a two-person group piece based around Lucifer and Adam, two fallen sons. The piece was okay, but to the team, it felt like two distinct pieces. Jesse and Brian went on to write individual pieces for each character. While I was away in La Verne for the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational, the team decided to create an entire concept bout based around children of God who had fallen away, with Lucifer written by Jesse, Adam written by Frandsen, Eve and Lilith written by Rebeca Mae and De Emett, and, unfortunately, God written by me as a response to all of them.
Ultimately, the concept bout was a success, and it began a tradition of Salt City Slam of creating concept bouts in nearly every National Poetry Slam since 2012.
Here is the first of that concept bout. Ultimately, that is perhaps the most difficult piece in a concept bout because the audience has zero knowledge of any of the poems that will be following. So, this piece needed to stand on its own. It was essential that this piece had legs. But dropping Biblical pieces isn’t easy. For the most part, audiences will have a preconceived notion of what will entail with a poem about the Bible. Most liberal audiences (which slam audiences tend to be) will likely have an aversion to a poem about the Bible. As I recall, there was a lot of hesitation to put up the concept bout due to this right up to the bout draw for that evening. Of course, if anyone is going to take on a challenge such as this, it will be Jesse Parent, whose narrative writing style and theatricality in performance has earned him top rankings at several Individual World Poetry Slams.
At its core, this piece is about a son vying for the attention of a father. The irony here, though, is the purpose for Lucifer, the reason for the creation of this deity, is to serve as a counterbalance to good. And as Jesse writes, Lucifer doesn’t have the same “magic tricks” as the good beings, such as Jesus to turn water into wine, or (to mix in some mythologies) put arrows into lover’s hears, or turn wives into pillars of salt. But Lucifer could burn. That’s how he was made. That’s what he was meant to do. But this burning is equivalent to destruction. In puritan Christianity, destruction is a descent into chaos and disorder, and disorder is itself considered evil (observe the layout of one of the most puritanical cities in America, Salt Lake City, and take note of its neat grid system, how the pioneers reigned in the land and wrangled it into a neat geometry. Nevertheless, to the east, the untamable Wasatch looms over the city, taunting it with its disorder and tumult). So, who can blame Lucifer for doing the thing that he is best at: burning, destruction, chaos, rebellion, igniting imagination?
Notice how Jesse avoids using the term “Jesus,” but calls him, at one point, “John 3:16.” I think in this sense, this avoids making the piece overtly religious, even though everyone catches the reference. Perhaps Lucifer is so bitter that he doesn’t want to say the name. But names are important, particularly in context of Genesis (naming becomes the central focus of the Eve & Lilith piece later in the bout). By not saying the name, not only does Jesse allow the audience to figure out the context, but expresses how bitter Lucifer is in this moment. He goes further to call Jesus a “bumper sticker of a promise,” not only ridiculing Jesus, but also the followers who slap bumper stickers on their cars and call it good (without actually following the ideas of Jesus).
The least 30-seconds or so is where Jesse turns up the volume on the emotion, both theatrically and with writing. Here, he’s made the case: Lucifer just tried to be the best he could be as God created him, yet was punished for doing so, and he is a bitter that God has played favorites. Now, in the last few seconds, Lucifer is desperate to return to God. When he says “I will share my love for you into the heavens,” the line comes off as both a an expression of devotion to God, and a threat to God. After all, when you are made to burn, how else do you love except explosively, which doesn’t bode well for mankind.
You’ll notice in this piece there are lines that will recur throughout the bout. “Dear Father,” comes up as the first line in each piece because as a team we decided we needed to start each piece in a distinctive manner to indicate to the audience that the piece was related to the other pieces in the bout. If you listen, though, you’ll find how certain lines and phrases were interwoven throughout each piece to tie each of them together, and give each one a different context.