Meta-Four Houston, a newly adopted program at Writers in the Schools, introduces spoken word to youth ages 13-19 and is currently recruiting poets to compete at the international poetry slam, Brave New Voices, in Chicago in August. Here is a glimpse at what spoken word is all about, from a Meta-Four Houston alum and WITS intern Jeremy:
When I first learned what similes and metaphors were, I was the most precocious 10-year-old in my 5th grade English teacher’s classroom. “The sunflower,” my teacher explained, “shines like the sun. That’s a simile.” Not bad for an introductory poetry lesson. But, of course, being that I was a smug, conceited brat at the time, my reaction was, ‘This is so obvious’.
So everything I experienced during the rest of that school year was a more obscure sunflower simile waiting to be written. Oswald pedaled across the screen while I was flipping through channels — ‘The sunflower is like an octopus bike.’ My friend Justin got picked first for our kickball tourney — ‘The sunflower is like a world-class athlete.’
If you don’t get it, don’t worry. No one else did either. Trying to share my fifth grade pieces with people taught me my first harsh lesson in poetry: there are ideas that can be envisioned – things that can be seen, felt, and experienced – which simply won’t translate well to written language. And since I couldn’t translate my ideas to others, they were worth nothing to anyone but myself.
A while after elementary school, I got involved in theatre. Through it, I found a living, working example of a simile: Acting is like the poetry of the body. It’s like being the physical translation of a thoroughly researched work. I loved to get on stage and be the medium through which a playwright could express his vision. However, the things I did not enjoy about theatre were certain types of critic I’d meet after my performances. Those who had read the source material beforehand. Those who were expecting a different translation than the one I created on stage. Those who deemed that there was only one possible way to interpret the character I was playing – and that I was doing it wrong.
Though I still love both theatre and written poetry and continue to do both to this day, my favorite form of artistry is now spoken word. When I discovered it, I found the best of both worlds. A spoken word is a piece of written poetry that a poet performs on stage with his or her voice, hand gestures, and body movements. Spoken word allows poets to truly convey their words. It goes beyond the limits of letters and punctuation marks by allowing the poet to be both the author and the translator of his or her work – to literally transcend language. Spoken word also gives performers an avenue to create rather than to simply interpret. What you perform on a spoken word stage is your own – and no one else can tell you that you are doing it the wrong way.
Many who are somewhat familiar with spoken word feel that it hampers the two art-forms it brings together. They believe that putting performance and poetry together will always cause one aspect of the piece to suffer. But in my experience, I’ve found that the opposite is actually true. Practicing spoken word has caused me to become better at both acting and writing. It’s forced me to dig deeper into my language-filled mind as a performer, while pushing me outside of my language-bound mind as a poet. And most importantly, it’s allowed me to share my ideas with others more effectively than any other method of communication I’ve ever used.
by Jeremy, Meta-Four Houston intern
Writers in the schools offers free spoken word workshops at 4 different locations this Spring 2013.