Word. Spoken Word.

Sarah Kay talks to Alima about stage presence after Alima guest-starred for Project Voice.

My goodness! That was my favorite assembly of all the moments of assemblage I’ve experienced here. Thanks you, Darcy Smith, Dr. Luizzie and, of course, Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye. And because there is so much I want to discuss, I’m going to have to be like mothers who choose Jif – choosy.

So as a first post, I’m going to address all the things Phil and Sarah said to fit my agenda as your AP English teacher, and I’ll hope that you relieve me of the responsibility of creative, inspiring posts by writing them yourselves, or by commenting at the bottom of this post about the creativity you bore witness to, or the inspiration you carried out of the auditorium.

Those Freaking Zubats

When Sarah told the story about the way that moment on the couch became the spark for the poem about her brother, she told you something that is a truth about inspiration, that inspiration happens when you allow a specific moment in time to illuminate a subject you’re continually thinking about (to get the intended meaning of that sentence, check the difference between continuously and continually).

Later, when Sarah was more directly addressing a question about inspiration from one of your fellow students, she said, “I sit down to write a poem when I’m trying to figure something out. Poem writing is much more a questioning act than an answering act.”

Now, you have no idea how badly I wished I could have looked back from my seat to see fifty light bulbs go on over your heads. The thought bubble beside the light bulb would have said something like, “So that’s what Mr. McAteer is talking about when he talks about literary analysis. Writers write not to prove a point but to work through the way they think about things. I can read not to see what the author had to say about a subject, but to see how creative people try to figure out what they want to know.”


On Writer’s Block

When Phil and Sarah answered the question about writer’s block, I was immediately reminded of something the poet Philip Levine (the current US poet laureate) said when he spoke at the Dodge Poetry Festival in 2006: “There is no such thing as writer’s block; there’s just the fear of writing crappy poems.”

Phil talked about, and I paraphrase here, the importance of sowing seeds in a notebook. Poets, novelists and playwrights don’t sit down and choose to write brilliant things; they work at it all the time. You have to be humble enough to accept whatever you’re able to write at a certain moment; if you will only be happy by writing the Great American Poem or Great American Novel, you’re probably not going to get a lot of satisfaction out of writing.

Sarah talked about taking using reading as the most effective means of finding inspiration. She said that she has a folder called her “Brilliance Archive” on her computer, and that when she’s not feeling particularly productive as a writer, she reads, looking for “something incredible” that she can retype into that archive. It is through retyping that she is able to feel herself writing something brilliant (which is why I like to transcribe certain passages rather than copy and paste them from my Kindle).

In a nutshell phrase coined by Thee Gruseke, both engage in “noticing what you noticed.”


Literary and Rhetorical Devices

When you’re unfamiliar with words like anaphora, apostrophe, antithesis and their ilk, you end up approaching literary analysis as if writers engage in this hunt for impressive sounding devices that they can use to give their work a sense of greater importance, to class it up a bit, if you will.

But let’s step back to Aristotle for a minute. Aristotle didn’t write an instruction manual that tragic writers were supposed to follow. Instead, he looked at all the literature that Greeks of his time were expected to know, and from those pieces, identified the most effective elements involved in evoking an emotional response to a play.

You may not have been conscious of it, but you heard an awful lot of these patterns in the poems Sarah and Phil gave us. Phil’s Nas-inspired “Letter to Hip-Hop” uses apostrophe to control the entire poem, from Dear Hip Hop at the beginning to “Are you there, hip hop, ‘cause this is a prayer, hip hop” near the end.

Sarah’s Montauk poem was in several places a workshop in anaphora, whether it was used as a controlling structural element – “I am seven. He is three…I am sixteen. He is twelve” – or as a unifying element within a part of the poem – “I learned how to…” The place she locates herself at the end of the poem – “I am 24” – between the chubby little girl at one end of the pool and the fifty year-old woman at the other end is in the middle of these two relevant opposites. Yes, a little voice just whispered “antithesis” into your ear.


One last thing: I hope I don’t have to say dialogue, because everything you heard was at one layer of dialogue or another.

That’s 885 words, which ought to suffice for now. Again, I encourage, invite, beg, plead for you to post your own post or respond in the comments with some expression of what you took away from the assembly. And yes, that was polysyndeton.




One Comment

  1. I loved reading this, wish I could be in this kind of class!

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