Briefly Revisiting the World of “Poetry Slam International” To Set An Old Record Straight
WARNING: There’s a strong chance this blog will be of no interest to 90% of you, as it involves a scene you likely aren’t a part of and have minimal interest in. I’m posting this here, however, because I feel a responsibility to call out a dude that’s been quietly allowed to harass people for years under the pretense of ‘art.’ My involvement with him has also becoming something of an urban myth in some circles, so I’ll use this blog to tell my side of the story one last time.
My first encounter with Matthew Rucker was in 2005, when the tour I was on passed through Minneapolis. The sequence of events that night becomes a little complicated and involves some detail, which I’ve laid out here “Deposition Style” if you’re SUPER interested.
The ultra short version of the story is this: After booking me for a show later in the year, Matthew followed myself and a group of friends to Pizza Luce for a post-show dinner. While there, we encountered a young girl in a crisis situation, who was 16 years old, bi-polar, and prostituting herself for drugs. She appealed to me for help, and I in turn tried to enlist Matthew as a resource from the city.
Instead, he made a comment about how nice her tits were, and dismissed her in a way that made me absolutely see red.
My solution? To take Matthew’s money, fly back to his city to perform in front of his audience, and hijack his show for a kind of ‘Asshole Intervention’. I appeared on his stage (The Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul, MN) that night as Bombzo Way, performed a 35 minute set of country music covers, and then told the crowd in dramatic fashion the entire story. It all ended with Matthew stopping payment on a check, threatening to sue me, attempting to blackball me from the Slam community, and spreading lots of myth about your boy.
Unfortunately, the members of his audience that night chose to go on the attack against me, even though Matthew was well known for this kind of behavior within their scene. I left feeling like I’d tried and failed, and kept it moving.
Matthew’s name had been all but forgotten to me until a week ago, when I was contacted by a number of people and informed that Matthew has received disciplinary action from the Executive Council of Poetry Slam Incorporated preventing him from participating in their events.
I had already given up Slam for a number of years in 2005 when the incident took place, and have only sporadically popped my head in since then to check in with friends; my knowledge of what’s transpired in the past 6 years is heresay at this point.
What I hear is that at least one female member of Matthew’s team has filed an official complaint, because of a multitude of incidents that may have included sexual harassment, and included wildly inappropriate behavior that took place while he was the Host City Chair for the 2010 National Poetry Slam. This team member claims to have been kept in her situation silently for years by Matthew’s perceived authority as the head of her team and local scene.
These things are heresay at the moment because Poetry Slam International has not made public the sexual harassment claim made to them against Matthew Rucker, and chose instead to discipline him privately and quietly. Matthew then posted a statement retiring himself from slam, stating that the decision was due to a surge in demand for his freelance work, and a desire to “go out on top.”
He still hosts an open mic, and still ‘privately tutors’ a number of people in performance poetry.
For whatever it’s worth, I’d like to lend my support to those asking that Matthew’s disciplinary action be made public. I believe it’s important that open mics and the slam community live up to the ideals put forward by so many of the artists within it, and it’s always rubbed me as a particularly gross hypocrisy when that fails to happen.
That night at the Artists’ Quarter, the same poets who were onstage rattling off bumper stickers about freedom and equality seemed content to know a callous at best and abusive at worst figure was representing them. They apparently continued to be content for 6 more years, and enjoyed the ride while Matthew Rucker gained influence and did more damage.
Here’s hoping that the Slam community takes the right steps to correct and prevent situations like this from arising in the future, and that we all continue the struggle to create welcoming and accepting environments for people with something to express; the kind of environment that the girl we met that night needed, and we all failed to provide.