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Case Number 13819: Small Claims Court

Buy Def Poetry: Season 6 at Amazon

Def Poetry: Season 6

HBO // 2008 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // June 12th, 2008

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All Rise...

In order to review this DVD, Judge Victor Valdivia needs to slip on sunglasses and a dashiki while scratching on a breakbeat record.

The Charge

"Def Poetry comes in all sizes, colors, shapes, persuasions."—Mos Def

The Case

Like its sister show Def Comedy Jam, Def Poetry is sorely in need of some quality control. The two discs that make up Def Poetry: Season Six add up to three hours and around sixty poets, which actually winds up being about twenty-five too many. For every moment of insight or raw emotion, there's at least one that is painful to watch, in the worst possible way. Instead of giving the good poets time to breathe, the show simply crams in far too many of varying quality, which makes it far harder to watch than Def Comedy Jam. Even at two to three minutes, bad poetry is far more interminable than bad standup at twice the length.

Def Poetry does deserve credit in one regard: There's simply nothing else like it on television today. Hosted by rapper/actor Mos Def (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), the show features poets from around the country as well as singers, rappers, and writers, all of whom recite poems and spoken-word pieces. Here are the performers who appear on all six episodes:

Disc One
• "Episode One"
Big Mike
Dan Vaughn & Dasha Kelly
Kelly Tsai
Red Storm
Shanelle Gabriel
Idris Goodwin
Jill Scott

• "Episode Two"
Dahlak Braithwaite
Skim Asian
Eamon Mahone & Paul Graham
Tahani Salah
George Watsky
Shannon Leigh
Pat's Justice
Lyfe Jennings
Talib Kweli

• "Episode Three"
Sarah Kay
Sciryl & Riva
Rafael Casal
Meilani Clay
Shannon Matesky
Carlos Andres Gomez
Carole King
Natalie Stewart
Jamal Joseph

• Disc Two
"Episode Four"
Oveous Maximus
Sonya Renee
Anis Mojgani
Joe Hernandez-Kolski
African-American Shakespear
David Banner
Sunni Patterson

• "Episode Five"
Big Poppa E
Bassey Ikpi
Alvin Lau
Saddi Khali
Liza Garza
Lamont Carey
Brian Dykstra
Vanessa Hidary
George Clinton

• "Episode Six"
Black Ice
Mayda Del Valle
Steve Colman
Georgia Me
Beau Sia
Stacyann Chin
Suheir Hammad
Nelly Furtado

There are some highlights that make this DVD of some value. Mos Def is a charming and talented host. He delivers a few rhymes and freestyles of his own and cracks a few clever jokes as well. Talib Kweli's piece on the difference between spirituality and religion is incisive and articulate. Shannon Leigh's poem about Darfur is evocative without being histrionic. Lamont Carey delivers a poem about a successful black athlete who has never been taught how to read that is not only brilliantly written but perfectly read. And of course, there's George Clinton, of Parliament and Funkadelic fame. No one else could have written his darkly hilarious routine about a drug-sniffing dog who becomes an addict. Even at 68, Clinton still retains the humor and energy of his classic days.

Unfortunately, when the show is bad, it's close to unwatchable. Nelly Furtado explains, in excruciating detail, why she named her child Nevis. Unless you're the child in question, it's likely you won't care. Alvin Lau rants an extended screed on why Tiger Woods should be more of an activist. Has anyone really been clamoring to hear political commentary from Tiger Woods? Brian Dykstra's "Push Bush on his Tush" isn't even that witty as a bumper sticker, let alone a three-minute routine. Other poets do pieces that aren't even really about anything at all but experiments in language, which is the sort of thing that may work on paper but isn't all that scintillating when read aloud. Also, far too many poets are melodramatic to a ridiculous degree. Maybe it's because they sense that this is their big shot at TV stardom, but too many episodes, the last in particular, are full of screaming, weeping, and hyperventilating.

Ultimately, Def Poetry: Season Six is just too long and uneven to really recommend. Fans of some of the performers here should preview the set before deciding whether it's worth the $19.98 list price.

The widescreen transfer and stereo mix are adequate. There are no extras.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: HBO
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Performance
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


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• Official Site

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