Poet Nicole Homer made a great observation about this in the family meeting Saturday morning after another poet brought up the idea that parts of WOW did not seem geared toward creating a safe space for women. Homer said, essentially, that Slam is not inherently safe space. It's one of those things that's so true it's a wonder it isn't the second most-used mantra after "The points are not the point."
It is an observation I agree wholeheartedly with, even though I also believe it should be managed and remains something to strive for. I have nothing against the idea of safe space.
What concerns me about the idea of "safe space" in this context is that, taken to an extreme and beyond the issue of judging art in bars, it potentially ignores a really big part of what makes Slam work to begin with: being part of an open door community. Slam - even an all-woman one - is not about homgenizing emotions or politics or ideals or values. It is about expression. And at an event with the kind of community support that PSi events generally receive, any number of things can, should and will be expressed. As artists we should embrace almost any vehicle that allows for that kind of insight into the human condition because that's how we blossom and grow as people. If I wanted to be surrounded by people who agreed with everything I thought was right I certainly wouldn't spend my time hanging around poetry slams, or anything art-based. I disagree with the values and politics of everyone from poets to judges to venue owners to audience members. It is my right as a thinking human being. But when I see something I disagree with at an event (and I do at every event) I typically opt out of that part of it. I don't ask that the event redefine community for me.
Artistic communities are not "safe spaces", not if they are truly progressive and genuinely open. You run the risk in a truly open community of having your idea of what's right and wrong confronted. If you find yourself in such a place - a place that both overwhelms you with its generosity and spirit and art and only occassionaly offends you around the edges, then congratulations! You've found a community worth being a part of. If, on the other hand, you find the ratio of generosity and spirit and art outweighed by that which offends you then you are trying to be part of the wrong community. Go find another community that fulfills your sense of right and wrong to your liking. The world is a big place. There's one out there for you. In the words of Obi Wan Slamnobi, "These are not the communities you're looking for."
Community is what makes it all worth seeing. I'm not interested in the one best way to talk about issues. I want the full range of ways to look at a thing, to experience it. If parts of that range offend me, I recognize that those things come with being part of a community of people who, at large and at the end of the day, still hold fast to a lot of the things I believe in too. I'm a well-rounded guy. You have to be pretty out in left field for me to dislike you on a molecular level.
So by all means: Slam and slam hard. Feel and feel hard. But if you have to tell a long-standing community it's off its ethical rocker, maybe it's not the community for you.
P.S.) I didn't even want to post this so soon after WOW because really, WOW was so awesome and even just this much dialogue makes it seem as if it wasn't to the passerby. Not true. It was absolutely awesome and full of love and community.