Hopefully all of you got to see the performance on Friday by Sarah and Phil. I got the pleasure of attending one of their spoken word poetry workshops Saturday afternoon at my yoga studio in Norwalk. I’m writing this to share my experience with you. Believe it or not, the first thing we were asked to do is something that we have already done in English class this year: list five things that you know to be true. At the end of the allotted seven minutes, a couple workshopees shared their truths, and Sarah and Phil explained the value behind the exercise.
Well in short, it was to figure out what to write about. Sarah made the point that the best writing come from something that the writer is excited about, and something that other people are interested in. This connects to the purpose of sharing the truths; if we all had taken the time to share our truths in English class, there would undoubtedbly be overlaps. These overlaps are possibilities for great writing because of the way that unique individuals explore a common theme.
Sarah used this exercise as a segwue into the three questions that a spoken word poet should answer as they create their work: 1. What am I going to write? 2. How am I going to write it? 3. How am I going to perform it? The answer to the first question should surface from the truths that allow you to shed a distinct light on something that other people can relate to on a fundamental level. Okay so the idea is there, begging to be expressed, but how? To answer this question Sarah used the example of telling your friends about how awesome your boyfriend is. If you say, “My boyfriend and I are so in love it’s crazy,” chances are you’re not going to get your friends to respond with anything beyond a “Good for you!” But if you say something like, “Every morning when my boyfriend wakes up I make him coffee with cream and two sugars because I know that’s his favorite,” then you’re going to get a more visceral response which commands the listener to be empathetic. Why? Because you’re tapping into something that is sensory. Love is complex and impossible to grasp, but most people have experienced the taste of hot coffee in the morning. So you can write something meaningful about an overarching (and overused) theme like love, by using sensory details that allow listeners to immerse themselves in what your words really feel like. We were asked to write what regret tastes, looks, and sounds like. Regret transformed before my eyes as I tried to wrap my head around its sensory existence; I wrote that regret sounds like crumpling a piece of paper that you’ve only written a few words on because your pencil doesn’t have an eraser.
Fast forward, you have written a poem. Now you have to get up and perform it? *Gulp.* That’s a scary thing, but like anything it comes with practice. Phil mentioned that it would be impossible to perform a poem perfectly the first time, because it is shaped by the very experience of performing. Sarah mentioned that when she first starts performing a new poem, she pays close attention to the audience’s response, and uses the feedback she gets to tweak certain details. One of the most important “tools” of spoken word is volume; by raising or lowering your voice you can emphasize specific features in your poem. Some important aspects of stage presence include eye contact, being loud enough, your posture, your hands, and respect for your poem. Respect for your poem means not walking up to the mic and starting off with a disclaimer that your poem probably sucks, or you wrote it five minutes ago. It also means committing to memorizing your work. As practice, Phil told us that making video recordings of poems allow you to critique yourself (even if that’s scary.)
So spoken word is not easy. The final piece of advice offered by Sarah and Phil that they stressed the most was making sure that you have the courage to write/perform through bad poems. In doing so, you gain the awareness and strength to move forward and continue pursuing spoken word.
I don’t know about you guys but after the assembly and the workshop, I had what I like to call an “inspiration high”; that feeling that makes you want to create something meaningful. As a first step towards that goal, I want to collaborate! I’d like to form a club/group dedicated to spoken word poetry, and everyone is invited. If you’re interested, let’s rendezvous in Mr. McAteer’s room on Monday after school to get this thing started.