Thursday, January 23, 2014

I slam. Therefore I am.


Poets Konstantyn Kuzminsky and Hedwig Gorski, originator of the term "performance poetry."

Continuing on from last week's post, which featured videos of Canadian poet and performer, Shane Koyczan, today I'm delving deeper into the world of spoken word poetry.  Performance poetry and the rising popularity of poetry slams have intrigued me for some time, but I've finally figured out what I'd like to do with that interest.  I'd like to start a performance poetry club at my daughter's school.  I haven't yet approached the teachers or administrators about it, but it's the kind of school that tends to be open to such things.  And from there who knows where it might lead?

One reason I'm enthusiastic about the idea is because it takes me full circle, back to my college days when I was known to mix things up a bit, artistically speaking.  Back then we called it "avant-garde" or "experimental" theater, or sometimes "performance art."  For me, it was what came naturally.  Need a vocally choreographed version of John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud"?  Sure.  How about a contemporary Garden of Eden dance performance combined with the first scene of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi? You bet.  Or maybe you fancy a cutting edge version of the German Expressionist play Murderer the Women's Hope, by Oskar Kokoschka?  Heck, yeah.

I was such a sweet girl back then...     but I digress.

The other reason performance poetry is a natural fit for me is because of my more recent experience as a Girl Scout troop leader.  (I know, could this post get more random?  Stay with me....)  I became a Girl Scout leader because I wanted to help girls build self-esteem, self-confidence, and find their own unique voices.  Though my troop dissipated after three years, the girls moving on to different middle schools and other interests, my desire to help young people find value in who they are and what they have to say has not strayed.  For me, the delicious mixture of performance, poetry, and self-expression seems an appropriate next step.

And, boy, do young people have some incredible things to say!

Here is Lily Myers at CUPSI (College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational) 2013, with "Shrinking Woman":


And here is Ethan Metzger in the first annual Bronx Youth Poetry Slam (May 2013), with "Brainwashing":


How hard can it be to become a spoken word artist anyway?  According to Gayle Danley, it's merely a five step process of transformation.  There's a wonderful motivational TED Talk about spoken word poetry by Sarah Kay, performance poet and founder of Project VOICE, an organization that uses spoken word poetry as a literacy and empowerment tool.  And, if still in doubt, I can always turn to these five practical tips for poetry performance from one of my favorite Poetry Friday contributors, Renée LaTulippe.  (By the way, Renée will be my special guest in Limerick Alley this coming Tuesday, so stay tuned!)

But what have I missed?  What I'd really like to know from you-- teachers, poets, and word lovers, all-- do you have any advice as I prepare to embark upon this new adventure?

For a poetic adventure of your own, look no further than the Poetry Friday roundup, hosted today by Tara at A Teaching Life.  Inspiration abounds!


23 comments:

  1. No advice whatsoever! I can hardly read my work aloud, no less perform it! I will view some of the clips. Have you seen Louder Than a Bomb? I saw it with an auditorium full of high school students. It was amazing!

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    1. No I haven't seen it, but thanks to your recommendation, I certainly will! Thanks, Diane.

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  2. A former student was part of the team from Denver that recently won the National Championship Michelle. I know that he started with the group and is also a songwriter and guitar player too, is only 17 and it was wonderful for him. Here's the link about them, and may give you someone to talk to! Best wishes-how great to bring this to the kids! http://blogs.westword.com/showandtell/2013/08/minor_disturbance_brave_new_vo_1.php

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    1. Thanks for the link, Linda, and congratulations to the Denver team-- that's awesome!

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  3. Great post, Michelle! I love the resurgence of poetry in performance through youth slam programs and Poetry Out Loud. Gayle Danley is a local superstar and a friend. She is absolutely amazing to watch in a classroom full of children.

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    1. I bet I'd learn a lot from Gayle! I wish there were more resources here where I live, but maybe I just haven't looked in the right places yet.

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  4. Wonderful idea to start a PP Club, Michelle! I once attended a poetry slam in NYC's Lower East Side. Hairy neighborhood, fabulous poets. It's definitely a great way to empower students. Love "Shrinking Woman."

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    1. That must have been fun, Jama-- vibrant to say the least. And isn't "Shrinking Woman" amazing? I loved it too. So profound really.

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  5. Impressive project, Michelle! Gayle Danley is warm and wonderful in person. The only other suggestion, poet-wise, that pops into my head is Taylor Mali.

    Maybe you could be a Poetry Out Loud coach when your kids get to high school?

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    1. Thanks for the Taylor Mali suggestion... I'll be sure to check him out. One of the great things about my daughter's school is that it's K-12, so it would not be difficult at all to have a club that included both MS and HS students... just not sure yet if that's a good idea.

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  6. Michelle, I think you should go for it! I think the kids would love it. Personally, PP frightens me. I like sharing in writing.
    This is the TED talk that speaks to me: http://www.ted.com/talks/joe_kowan_how_i_beat_stage_fright.html

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Liz. Luckily, they have a TED talk to suit everyone! :)

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  7. No advice except, just do it! What better reasons than "my desire to help young people find value in who they are and what they have to say ". You've said it all. Let us know how this progresses, Michelle! =)

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    1. Thanks for the pep talk, Bridget. :) I will definitely keep you all posted, but at this point I'm just contemplating what I'd need to do to lay the groundwork for next academic year. And hopefully I won't scare myself out of it before then!

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  8. I agree with Bridget! Plus, let us know how it goes!!

    I'm in the process of being approved to start a TED-ed Club, so I'll be going down a similar path...but not necessarily with poetry!

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    1. So cool that you're looking to start a TED-ed Club, Mary Lee! That ought to keep you busy... just in case you weren't busy enough. ;)

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  9. What an exciting project -- a brave way to fly and test your wings! I look forward to hearing about your progress! We believe in you!

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    1. Aw, thanks Keri. Your words mean an awful lot to me.

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  10. What a timely post for me, Michelle. I write a poetry column for a writer's mag. four times a year and have been thinking of tackling spoken word poetry as my next topic. So I've put all your links into my 'pocket' and am eager to check them out. Thank you!

    All the best with starting a club at school! It's bound to be a lot of fun when the kids catch the spirit of it.

    (David Bowden is another spoken word poet I'm familiar with. He writes/performs on topics of faith.)

    Violet N.

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    1. So glad my links will be useful to you, Violet! Make sure you check out all of the comments too, since many folks, like you, have made helpful suggestions.

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  11. You may want to consider coordinating a visit from (#MMPoetry authlete) Allan Wolf to your daughter's school. He's ran with the original slam crew.

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    1. Allan Wolf sounds like he'd be a great resource, Ed-- thanks!

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  12. Great post, Michelle! I've always been intrigued by poetry slams (one of my wips actually features one), but I'm pretty sure I'm too inhibited to actually perform a piece of my own. Good luck with this, and keep us posted! = )

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