Feb. 12th, 2014

Well, Shit

Feb. 12th, 2014 06:13 pm
fengi: (Mr. Augh II)
Maggie Estep has died. Gawker and Jezebel have yet to take notice, same for The Awl, which is fucking weird, to me at least, because she was very NYC and MTV. I first found out here on Livejournal.

I'm realizing she's a footnote of a footnote for most and it's hard to conceive because she was a big deal to me.

The media simplification is she was an it girl of the poetry slam in the 90s. Estep was a high school dropout who eventually graduated from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University after taking up writing while kicking heroin. She broke big during the early 90s iteration of The Spoken Word Revival (something which occurs every few years since the Beats) of which slam was a newly significant but far from singular part. Estep fell between things like Jim Carroll's People Who Died and Giorno Poetry Systems and the slam explosion.

During the brief period Mtv included such material in its content stream, Estep appeared in poetry spots and the Spoken Word edition of Mtv's Unplugged.

She got the lead mention in the NYT review of the show with a follow up style feature in 1994. She also appeared on The United States of Poetry and toured with Lolapalooza.

Among my Chicago peers she was an object of hope and resentment (poets always chase and scorn recognition) and, of course, envy. Some dismissed her as merely an attractive art star because they emphasized the Mtv association and ignored the words. It's a sign of how far Mtv and that sort of culture has shifted that she seems far too radical for screen time.

She put out a rock record, but the video didn't get much play outside of Beavis and Butthead. "I've got a guy grabbing his crotch in my video and John's got two guys making out in his, so they tell us our videos can't be aired with those scenes. Yeah, free your mind, sure."

It's weird to think Estep's type of work has become institutional in one way yet in others marginal. Slam is coming up on its 30 year anniversary, yet has faded as the latest Spoken Word Revival is all about storytelling. On the one hand, her work is intense enough that if Mtv ran the first clip as often as it once did it might inspire a manosphere meltdown. On the other, it might be overlooked because the effect has been diluted by thousands of less inspired versions of that reading style and far less clever tumblr social justice memes.

This post is as much about my thoughts on poetry as her passing. It's not about lost youth, but how idiosyncratic one's idea of significance can be, particularly in poetry, where one can go from known to genuine obscurity in ways that other media may not. 50 is too young to die, especially as someone who was so vibrant in all of her performances. I hope more will discover her now, but I wish it was for a better reason.

Her last blog post was Strippers Sluts and Umlauts. Overall her blog is that of a rather nice person who reads. She would not have been out of place on Livejournal. Adios.