Slam poet Christopher Lane
CHRISTOPHER Lane shares a light moment with Rochelle Brener, founder of Write Here, a Sanctuary for Writers, in September 2003.
Lane, most widely known as a “slam poet” is a man who lives for words, for the communication of emotion that poetry can offer.
It is because of Lane’s dedication to communication and to the community in which he lives that the art of spoken word poetry is enjoying an amazing renaissance in Northern Arizona, Sedona in particular.
Slam, an entertaining form of competition poetry, is “really just a medium that gets attention. It makes poetry exciting, gives it a very contemporary voice. I don’t know that it’s 100 percent poetry,” Lane says. “A lot of it is poetic prose. But what it does, how it affects the listener – that’s the real poetry.”
When Lane creates a performance piece, he “hears” a specific tone, “a ‘voice’ that I use. What I write then becomes something of a poetic monologue. I need to ask myself what the message is that I want to communicate to my audience, and how I can do it poetically and not sound like I’m giving a speech or like I’m on some sort of soapbox rant,” he says. “I look for a lot of metaphor and simile in what I do – but the kinds that people can relate to, not some sort of esoteric reference that no one will understand. Most slam is free verse, very metaphoric, so the audience can capture it, hold some elements of the piece and enjoy the message.”
When Lane isn’t writing in “slam voice,” his poetry still tends toward free verse.
“I don’t tend to like structure very much, unless it’s Haiku, which is the most stringently structured form there is. I guess it’s either one extreme or the other,” he says. “There are masters of form and discipline – like Jill Williams, who can write and perform formal pieces beautifully – but I find that structure and form can turn off some audiences that might otherwise enjoy this thing we call poetry,”
Lane has always been something of a Renaissance man. For several years, he studied the viola, which he still plays. Early in his life, he began painting in oils and acrylics. As a youth, he studied martial arts. From high school, he went into the Army, and from there, into retailing.
“If you look at it objectively, military and retail work are very similar in their thought processes,” says Lane. “When I hit 25 or 26, I actually woke up to the fact that retailing and the military were a waste of my life.”
For Lane, poetry is the language of the soul – an unusual outlook for a man in his early 30s.
“For me,” he says, “poetry is how I communicate with my higher self.”
For this poet, as with many others, the poetry started coming when love went astray.
“I had a girl friend who broke up with me – this was back in Texas – because she said that I loved her too much. I started writing then; and the creative process being what it is for me, I needed to share it. Healing and sharing went hand in hand. Maybe there’s some sort of catharsis for me in the sharing, but whatever it is, it works. In this sharing at open mics and coffeehouses, I found the basic ingredients that are present in my delivery of slam poetry. Then I was actually invited into the slam scene, and decided that this is how I wanted to present my work.
“At the time,” Lane goes on, “I was heavy into drugs and alcohol. I believed with all my heart and lack of soul that I had, that this was how poets lived – how they were supposed to live - tortuously. I finally came to the realization that substance abuse was destroying me, and it was hurting others, and I finally had to make a choice: did I want to live, or did I want to die? It sounds melodramatic, but it’s really where I was at the time. Once I decided that I wanted to live, I came out to Sedona in (this was in August 2000), to visit my sister, who lives here. I knew I wanted to stick with my poetry, so I sought out the slam scene here, which was mostly in Flagstaff and Prescott. But Sedona is so beautiful; and it has a way of grabbing you and not letting go. And I love the people here – they’re genuine – and the sense of community. It’s really the people who make this place so wonderful. Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“And here’s where I met Akasha, right at Ravenheart Coffee House.”
Akasha Shelley is Lane’s fiancée and the love of his life.
“When Akasha came into my life, all the good things started to happen. I learned to feel okay with myself, and once I began to feel complete, the universe rewarded me. The only thing easier than loving Akasha,” he says, “is breathing.”
Lane and Akasha have a baby due at the end of April, and Christopher is looking forward to first-time fatherhood.
“It’s the most exciting thing I’ve experienced yet. It’s incredibly new, incredibly powerful – and also very humbling. And this couldn’t be happening at a better time in my life. This is the most important thing to me, this new little life. I’m already learning so much – it’s shown me things I need to work on, things I need to embrace.”
What Lane embraces most fervently (other than Akasha and the new spirit in his household) is his writing.
“Everything I do, I do for my writing. I could do anything from shoveling manure to going back to school, it would all be to serve the writing.”
What Lane does to cover the expenses of everyday living is “immaterial,” he says. “If your creative process is important to you, your job won’t define you.
“Now I’m in a place where I want to give back to people what poetry became to me. Where I was once ready to destroy myself, it is now the reason – and the way - to repair myself. Poetry has a responsibility to the community that supports it,” Lane says. “And for me, that community is right here. Sedona. Home.”