One thing you have to give the Def poets credit for, and that is that they write poems with a discernible subject matter. Whereas the average New Yorkerpoem is as wispy as a smoke ring, these guys definitely come in with a topic. A poet called Black Ice recited an intricately rhymed poem about bringing up a child in the midst of a strained marriage ("For my kids, there ain't nuthin' I won't go through," it ended); Helena D. Lewis wrote about bad breath (I fast-forwarded through that one); and Daniel Beatty recited a dialogue between his inner "nigger" and his well-spoken, college-educated "nerd" exterior. Predictably, the "nigger" KO'd the nerd: You're not going to get very far on Def Poetry Jamsinging the praises of Harvard.
As it happened, my favorite poem of the evening wasn't on Def Poetryat all. It was on Real Time With Bill Maher, during a comedy routine by Jeffrey Ross. "This is a poem I wrote during a very stressful time in my life," Ross told the audience, sounding like a suitably earnest child of the therapy culture, "but I think the sentiment behind it still holds true today. I hope you like it. This poem is called 'Where the Fuck Are My Keys?'"
Then, accompanied by some tinkling cocktail-lounge piano music, Ross began to read:
Where the fuckare my keys? Seriously, where the fuck are my keys? Shit. Fuck. Fuck. Shit. I'm not playing, okay? Where the fuck are those motherfucking . . . Never mind, I got 'em, they're right here.
Like most standup poetry, it doesn't work on the page, but at least it was (a) funny, and (b) self-deprecating. That's something.