Poets Out Loud!
A Teacher’s Workbook of Performance Poetry
Including Sound Art Projects
by TVS & MJR
Poets Out Loud!
The purpose of this book is to provide educators and group leaders with a workbook that uses word work activities, performance poetry techniques and sound art projects to introduce writing and performing poetry with sound art to students of all ages. This workbook provides an outline for developing performance-based spoken word classes and workshops as well as performance poetry events. The outcomes of this program include improving self-esteem, self-expression, thinking outside the box, creative stimulation, thought and response, self-discovery, language skills, clear communication, public speaking and creating within a group. The goals are personal growth and a new understanding of poetry and sound.
TVS & MJR
TVS & MJR are poets from Fort Collins, Colorado. In the performance poetry group, TVS & two fingers, they have created a ground-breaking new art form as performers and recording artists, combining performance poetry with sound art. As workshop leaders they have worked with all ages and are the authors of Poets Out Loud! A Teacher’s Workbook of Performance Poetry.
Principle: “Every voice is important, every voice is heard.”
Where this book came from
This book was started while sitting on a jet on the tarmac of LaGuardia Airport in New York City in 2001. We had just finished our first “East Coast Tour” of schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts and we were on our way back to Colorado. The experience we had working in inner city and charter schools was so powerful that we were bubbling over with ideas. Rapid note taking on the spot suggested the idea that there was a book in what we were doing and we agreed then and there that this book had to be. While it is certainly rewarding to perform, the possibility of contributing more in the educational field is also enticing. After all, what can be a better gift than to help others, especially young people, find their voice. TVS & MJR.
-For Educators and Group Leaders
-How to Use This Book
-What is a Poem, Poet, Poetic Moment, Performance Poetry?
-Introduction to Word Work Activities
-Word Work Activities
-Performance Poetry Techniques
-Introduction to Sound Art Activities
-Sound Art Activities
-Classes and Workshops
-Poems from Bridgeport, CO and Northampton, MA
Who is this book for?
Teaching poetry has traditionally been one of the hardest subjects to get students excited about since the dawn of modern education. That’s because poetry is often taught as though it were a classic art- going back to the revered poets of the ages.
Poetry in the 21st Century is very much a contemporary art. Part of this is due to its popularity as a performance art. Events called “slams” have made poetry a competitive sport while open mike poetry gatherings create opportunities for expression that no other art offers with so little- all you need is a voice and some words. Published poetry has also undergone a tremendous boom since publishing a magazine or even a book has become as easy as a visit to the copy store. With personal computers, poets can typeset their own work, create web sites to publish it, and become part of the huge “zine” culture that thrives independently of the commercial publishing world. Music artists such as Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra- both originally from punk rock groups- have popularized spoken word performances on stage. The rise of rap and hip hop as musical styles has created an unprecedented interest in “poetry,” since no other contemporary art form puts so much emphasis on words for their rhythm, sounds and meaning. Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and John Milton may be important names in the history of poetry, but they are not nearly as relevant to modern students as Eminem or Dr. Dre.
Modern wordplay is very vocal and very much alive. This is why performance poetry becomes a key to teaching the art of poetry. It becomes a chance for the student to write something they mean and to say it out loud. But more, it becomes an interactive situation between speaker and listener, one that turns the static nature of words on the page into living, breathing meaning- something the author owns simply by sharing it with others. We have added sound art to performance poetry to give extra flavor to the sound of the words, providing support for those who are nervous about performing alone and emphasis for those comfortable with performing. While poetry has a venerable history, getting students to write and perform their own work and to recognize the value of words in contemporary society can only make them appreciate poetry better rather than dread it.
For group leaders
Poetry has not only gained popularity in our culture, but it has also proven to be a very effective tool for personal growth. In fact, accredited programs now exist for “poetry therapy.” Poetry is a mysterious art that directly translates emotion and opinion into words. This is a strong basis for communication, the first step to understanding and solving personal problems. But more than just writing words, turning poetry into a vocal art creates an opportunity to develop trust, respect and encouragement among peers. We have seen clients at a boys residential treatment center receive resounding applause for poems that express sincere, fragile feelings. We have also seen students caught in a crisis situation at their school respond with chilling words from the heart, helping to release pent up anxiety.
Adding sound art to the words offers a nonverbal way to participate that can both support and emphasize. We have seen delight in the faces of troubled youths when introduced to the sound qualities of “instruments” they would never have thought about playing- such as masking tape, bubble wrap and pan lids. Together, performance poetry and sound art open up new, creative channels of thought and expression. Poetry becomes a trusted friend as young people learn to listen to their own voice and to those of others.
Principle: Teach poetry as a living art.
How to Use This Book
Every situation is different, so no one program is suited for general purposes. Instead, think of these ideas as components in a custom-built computer system. With a “plug and play” attitude, you can create a full poetry experience that best serves your students.
Decide what kind program you want to present. Are you teaching a class to general students? Are you teaching a specialty class? Are you interested in a workshop approach? Is there another teacher you can team up with? What do you need to plan for?
Define poetry. What is poetry in its simplest terms? Who is a poet and what is the poetic moment? What is performance poetry?
Introduce word work activities. Why are words so important? What are “poetry words”? What rules can you establish for working with words in a group? How do you elicit response?
Establish successful performance poetry techniques. Do students know that they need to speak up? Do students know how to use a microphone? Do students know that listening is as important as speaking?
Include sound art projects. What is sound art? What is a sound art instrument? How does sound art help support performance poetry?
Consider creating a performance poetry event as the end result of classroom activities. Will this be a classroom event? Will this be a public event? What are the steps to creating a public event? How do you market it? What would make the event a success?
Help young people achieve new understanding of themselves and their peers with poetry as a tool for self-awareness. What are personal growth values? What are the personal and group outcomes?
Why? To create opportunities for creativity and self-expression in a public setting.
Principle: Create a stage.
Celebrate the unique.
Recognize the rhythm.
Excite the imagination.
Adjust the volume.
Tame the tempo.
Experiment with sound.
CREATE a chance to play…
What is a poem?
Poems are words that are carefully chosen to express a feeling, thought, image or memory. Poetry differs from other kinds of writing because usually poems have a certain form to them. Meanings, sounds and syllabic rhythms are usually collected into groupings of lines. Think of poems as songs without instrumental accompaniment, that are said, not sung. In poetry, what you express may be personal, how you express it is art.
Who is a poet?
A poet is any person who writes poems. Sometimes, people might only write a few poems in their lifetimes, but they are still poets. That means that many people around you- your grandmother, father, mother or cousin, friend, foe, stranger or anyone you know- could be poets. There are professional poets- people who make their livings by writing books of poems and teaching. But poetry is much more widespread as an art because it requires only a pen, paper and an inquiring mind. Poets are writers who examine life and express truth with a handful of words.
Recognize Community Achievement: Look for outstanding achievements in the surrounding community and use them to encourage writing. If you don’t hear about any outstanding achievements, then make them happen. Create a poetry contest and honor the winner with press releases and a premiere event. Make it an annual award that becomes a tradition at your school.
What is the poetic moment?
People often write poems at significant times in their lives- like when falling in love, when celebrating friends and family and when grieving for a deceased loved one. The poetic moment that inspires them can be a big thing, like the ending of a war. It can also be a small thing, like the simple act of a father comforting his crying daughter. Whatever it is, it’s something that stands out as particularly interesting or important to the poet. When you use words to capture the moment, then you are a poet.
What is performance poetry?
Often, when people think of poetry, they think of poems printed on paper- in greeting cards, in magazines and in books. To some, however, that is not enough. Performance poets are people who take what’s on the page and turn it into a vocal experience. The poem provides the words and the performance provides the voice. Performance poetry is a dynamic and dramatic approach to poetry, directly connecting the poet with an audience. This doubles the impact of the poem and completes the poetic cycle that has one main goal- to be heard.
Principle: Poets can be anyone
Words are one of the greatest inventions of humankind. They are invaluable tools for translating everything around us into a form that can easily be understood by others. Not only are words useful for communication and understanding, but they are also attractive for their sounds, rhythms and meanings.
If words can be seen as tools, then exploring the use of words can be considered work. “Word work” is exactly that- an exploration into how words can serve to describe, define, reveal and change what is inside and outside a person. Word work, of course, requires a vocabulary with which to start and a willingness to form those words into a personal response, reflection or statement.
What are “poetry words”?
To create poetry, everyday words must become “poetry words.” Poetry words can be obvious and simple but all are chosen carefully. They are not just the first words that come to mind. Poetry words are meant to be personal and creative. Poetry words are supposed to fill a poem with meaning using the least amount of space possible. Poetry words are like an artist’s brushstrokes, each an important part in painting a picture as a whole.
Just as single brushstrokes do not make a painting in themselves. Word work aims at going beyond the strength of only a few words. Words are meant to go with other words so the following activities also become exercises in composition. Poetry words naturally become poems given the right environment and encouragement to grow.
Word Work Rules
Working with words as a group activity requires rules that allow for equal participation and personal respect. Rules should first be designated by the sponsoring organization (school or group) to define the use of profanity and prejudicial language. It must be established that not everything is acceptable. This underscores the need to choose words carefully. Encourage an atmosphere that allows for suggestions. Begin with the idea that with each suggestion, the group may be searching for better ideas. While teachers or group leaders must maintain authority, it should be stressed that the group should be allowed to function naturally with minimal interference. Encourage individuals to use the group experience in their personal work. Keep activities moving.
Suggested Word Work Rules
-Every suggestion should be legitimate.
-Do not pre-edit.
-Everyone gets a turn.
-Control time to include everyone.
-Participation is essential for results.
-Only one person speaks at a time- unless planned otherwise.
-Someone must be in charge.
Principle: Choose words carefully.
Relax and listen.
Enjoy the moment.
Plan to be patient.
Concentrate on the words.
Think about the poem.
RESPECT those who speak…
Poetry is an art of communication, therefore it is implicitly necessary for poetry to become a group experience. A performer is not a performer if there is no audience. Listeners are stuck without a performer. The joy of expression is best when both performer and audience are in the same psychic space. But we also encourage group activity to produce new work. This makes the act of creation itself a group experience. In a public format, attempt to not only elicit individual response, but also collaboration. Get small groups together and have them work on a poetry project together.
On a trip to a middle school in Amarillo, Texas, I worked with multiple classes. The homeroom class of my teacher friend was studying The Holocaust of World War II and I was given the challenge to try to fit the group activity around that subject….
TVS and two fingers has created many group poems. The poem that has become the group’s standard opening is titled “Poetry is…” The poem actually was derived out of a friendly argument group members were having at a rehearsal. One said that “poetry is madness.” Another replied by saying “No, it’s not, it’s…” It struck us right then and there that a group poem was in the works. Each of us sat down to write several responses the the phrase “Poetry is…” Then we read our responses back to each other, picked our favorite responses and then each member performs their lines in turn. The poem expresses that there are plenty of ways to define poetry and no one of them is wrong.
On one trip to a poetry festival in Salida, Colorado, we jotted down the words that were flying around the car as we talked. Then we fashioned the phrases into a poem about the trip. On another trip to Western Colorado, we took note of all the unusual things we saw along the road, then created a kind of travelogue poem for the kids we were going to visit.
We created a poem using scissors, keying off of the word “cut”
Word Work Activities
Words are many things. They help us define our lives and the world. But more than meaning, words are combinations of sounds that can be used for rhyming, alliteration and syllabic rhythm. Encourage the use of all aspects of words- including their sound qualities- in the following activities.
As participants offer suggestions, make note that they are not only contributing words, but they are also expressing a voice. How they think and what they say is a process that is personal to each individual- the result is their voice. One way to understand the concept of voice is to assign a “search and consume” activity where participants read and collect examples of distinctive voices in literature. What are the distinctive voices in your group?
The most difficult thing to do in writing is to get started. A simple technique is to solicit a limited response- as little as a single word- to a phrase or theme. From single word responses, move to the concept of “one-liners”- a single line that is a true expression for the speaker. Multiple line poems will naturally follow. Phrases ask for completion. Themes offer an opportunity to choose.
“What I wish I could tell you…”
“Before I’m done, I will…”
“In the future, I think…”
“What I gotta get said is…”
“My message in a bottle says…”
What you are famous for
Describe a candy
Places I have seen
A special person
A special moment
My TV show
In my room
Describe a picture
One word- Describe an aspect of yourself using a word with the same first letter as your first name (“Mountain Mark,” “Taleteller Tim”)
One-liners- Have participants write one line about any chosen subject. Insist that whatever the line is, it must be descriptive. An easy suggestion is to ask participants to introduce themselves using only one line. Participants can then read their one-liners to the group. Further, individuals can be placed into groups. Have participants read each other their one-liners, then decide how to arrange the one-liners into a group poem. Have the group perform their one-liner poem to the group as a whole, each poet reading their own line.
Knock knock- Answer the question of “Who’s there?” with a one line description of yourself. This can become an activity using the whole group. First participant says “Knock, knock,” second participant answers “Who’s there?” then the first participant delivers their one-liner. Then the second participant says “Knock, knock” to the third participant, who answers, then the second participant delivers their one-liner and so on around the room.
Editing- Editing means taking out unnecessary words to make a presentation more efficient. Present a piece of prose from a book, newspaper or magazine to the group. Eliminate any extra words- such as “and, the, an, a.” Simplify the structure of the sentences and break down the paragraphs into lines. Try to achieve a state of “minimum words.” How is the intent of the words changed? Does the meaning change and do new meanings arise from the same set of words? Does it become poetry?
Random reading- For an unusual effect, try random reading from any literature source available. This method illustrates how serendipity can produce a new appreciation for words when put into a new context. Select random pages to read out loud from different kinds of texts. Try reading only a few words or a phrase from different pages. Include pauses to create a sense of rhythm.
Poetry in the world- Find words or phrases used in advertisements that have a poetic tone. Advertising is similar to poetry because it attempts to convey maximum meaning with minimum words. Also search for poetry in newspapers, magazines, bumper stickers, graffiti, business signs, movies, television.
Other voices- Take a famous poem, take out some words and have participants fill in the blanks with their own words to create a new poem. Offer the first half of a poem then ask participants to complete it with their own words.
Shape- Poems on the page can be printed to resemble shapes that may or may not have anything to do with the meaning of the text. Create a sculpted poem on the page that is also expressive when read aloud.
Movable Poetry- Print lines of poetry on large cards then ask participants to stand together to create a visual/physical poem by holding the cards in a chosen order. Change the order of the cards and create a new poem with the same lines.
Word scavenger hunt- Ask participants to gather words from their everyday environment using a variety of themes to evoke response, such as: self, family, street, neighborhood, friend, stranger, on the bus, at school.
Publish- Create a literary magazine. Include poems by everyone in the group. Photocopy the results and publish it to friends, classmates and family. Have a poetry reading to celebrate the publication.
Rhyming- Present a word and solicit rhyming responses. Read back all the collected rhymes. Make rhyming lists for many words and create a rhyming dictionary for students to refer to.
Type of poem- Poems do not have to rhyme. They do not have to incorporate a regular, metered rhythm. Write a “free form” poem without rhyming or pre-set structure.
Perspective- Imagine big things as small things or small things as big things. Imagine yourself older/younger, male/female, richer/poorer, city/rural.
Two voices- Choose partners and create an “If…Then…” poem. Example: Participant one: “If the world were square…” Participant two: “Then circles become straight lines.”
Eavesdrop- Listen to conversations around you and create a poem with quotes of what you hear in different situations.
Wheel of Poetry- Create a game show with words. Participants become contestants and poems become the answers for prizes.
Content- Listen to what you say to other people during the day, then quote yourself.
Puns- Show how puns are wordplay with humor. Present a theme for group pun fun.
Expression- List your pet peeves.
Imagine- Create a poem about a series of photographs that may or may not be related.
Identify feelings with words.
Nourish the positive.
Transcend the negative.
Navigate word choices.
Tell the truth.
INTENT relates the message…
Performance Poetry Techniques
When you write, you are creating a voice, when you speak the words, the voice becomes real. This is how words come alive. Public speaking of any kind, however, usually frightens most people and the idea of performing something as personal as a poem in front of others can be unnerving at first. This can be overcome with familiarity and practice.
Speakers can first work on their skills on an individual basis by reading their own poems aloud to themselves or others outside of the classroom. Then bring a p.a. system into class. This should include a microphone, speakers and a control unit for volume and tone.
Using a Microphone
Show how to use a mike by demonstrating that it is best to keep the mouth close and that words should be directed into it. Show that by moving the mouth away from the mike before finishing a phrase or sentence results in the words getting lost. Then let students get used to using it by letting them practice. A little vocal boost from a p.a. system can give students a sense of confidence that they will be heard. The more students rehearse, the more comfortable they will be with becoming a poetry performer.
Principle: Speak up.
Share your poem.
Emphasize key words.
Act with confidence.
Know your poem.
SPEAK as if you mean it…
Sound art is the use of sound-making instruments to create a mood or an artistic atmosphere. While not music as such, since sound art is not necessarily tied to a particular melody or rhythm, it is very related to music because sound is the focus. Sound art can be an interesting art form in itself, offering a wide range of expression- limited only by the imagination of the sound artist. But we have also found that sound art can be an excellent accompaniment for spoken word performances. Sound art not only enhances words and meaning, but it is also an opportunity to include more than one person into a performance.
Sound Art Attitude
Sound art is ruled by an aesthetic attitude which accepts any object or process that makes sound as a potential instrument. This can begin with sounds made with any traditional instrument. Flutes, drums, trombones, oboes and clarinets can all be sound art instruments. The sound art attitude, however, includes an openness to how the instrument is played. Traditional instruments can be “played” in unusual and creative ways to create unique sounds. The next step is to also include the artistic possibilities that nontraditional instruments afford. Nearly all everyday objects can be manipulated to make a sound. The question becomes does this sound help illustrate any feelings or help create a platform for words to work their magic? This is where art comes in and the artist must answer that question for themselves according to what they are trying to accomplish.
When you accept the idea that sound art instruments can be found just about anywhere, it becomes a kind of a treasure hunt when looking for sound makers. Look at interesting items found in everyday life- like kitchen pots and pans. Use any and all sources to find things that make interesting sounds like thrift stores, basements, garages, industrial scrap piles, recycling bins and closets. You can use tools, kitchen appliances, buckets and cans. Listen to the rhythmic sound you can make ripping masking tape off a roll, or the cool clicking that can be made by working a pair of scissors. The sound art attitude doesn’t reject any possibility- at least until the idea gets tested.
Sound Art and Poetry
Applying sound art to words then becomes a further challenge. Sounds can be chosen because they directly, or literally, interpret the words. Or they can be chosen for their sound qualities quite separately from the meaning of the words. No matter what the choice becomes, one main rule must be understood. Since words must be heard in order to be effective, any sound art accompaniment must allow the words to dominate. Sound art should augment and accent without overpowering the speaker.
Principle: Words over sound.
Sound Art Instruments
Sound art begins with introducing the concept. Then it becomes time to gather the instruments. A good place to start is in percussive instruments, since just about anything you can think of can be struck to create a sound. Think of different themes according to what the instrument is made out of and collect instruments of the same type. For example: gather instruments made out of all organic materials or all plastic or all metal. Here are some basic percussion instrument categories that can easily be gathered from everyday sources:
Rattles– Rattles are a simple way to combine sounds. A container provides surfaces for the material inside to strike in different ways. Try different types of containers and inside materials to create unique combinations. The container can be a cardboard box, metal can, a wooden box or plastic bottle. Inside, use beans, coins, beads, wood scraps, marbles, nuts, bolts, screws or pebbles. Vary the amount of items inside the rattle. A few might sound like the movement of feet while many may sound like traffic or a busy street.
Rhythm Sticks– Striking one kind of stick against another makes a percussive sound that is easily controlled and repeated. Use traditional rhythm sticks such as claves, or match up pairs of wooden dowels, small branches, cardboard tubes, plastic pipes or metal rods. Sticks can be short or long, performers can strike the sticks on any portion, or performers can work together by striking each other’s sticks.
Drums– There are plenty of traditional drums that can help create a sound art resource, including snare, tom tom and bass drums. There are also a wide variety of hand drums available including bongos, bodhran and doumbek. But drums can be made out of just about any container including metal and plastic buckets, candy, cookie or popcorn tins and cans, as well as large, medium and small coffee cans. For variety, encourage sound artists to use only one striking stick, then use two.
Sound Art Projects
Principle: Be open to a new sound source.
Sound Art Techniques
Practice different rhythm patterns and dynamics- Inevitably, whenever you use percussion instruments, a natural rhythm will occur- a regular pattern of beats that help form a repeatable structure. Not all rhythms have to be linear. Rhythms can stop and go and become random. Try to encourage sound artists to “feel the rhythm” and practice using hard touches and light touches. To encourage success, work within the natural limits of the group, but do not be afraid to try expanding those limits. When working with words, listen to the flow of speech first, then try to match a rhythm. Or maybe the words don’t suggest a regular rhythm.
Sound Art Activities
Sound art and words- Choose at least two sound art instruments that have distinctly different sounds. Play each instrument, then ask participants to think of words or phrases that the sound reminds them of. The sound can remind them of a thing, a feeling, a place or a situation. Write down the answers, then have sound artists play the instruments while reading the words back. This becomes a bare basic response poem with sound art! No matter how few words there are, participants love hearing their contribution. For a more involved activity, take the word suggestions and rewrite those words and phrases into a poem that connects the words and offers some sort of implied theme. If the words are written with a rhythmic flow in mind, just about any combination of sounds and images will work. Then perform the poem with sound artists.
Toys and candy- Elementary age children can be enticed into creating poetry and sound art by using familiar sound-making objects in a new context. Find toys that make mechanical sounds or programmed sound effects and create a poem about favorite toys. Take popular candy and create sound art instruments- like putting jawbreakers into a can to make a rattle device. Then create a poem about candy. What else can be used? How about bouncing a basketball on the floor and creating a poem about sports? How about clapping your hands and creating a poem about skin?
Juxtaposition- Take a famous poem by another author and have participants create a sound art arrangement for it. Take a famous pop song by any artist and create a new sound art arrangement to go with the familiar lyrics. In both situations, participants can find new meaning and have a fresh reaction to something popular in a different context.
All-Volunteer Sound Art Orchestra- When you have collected enough instruments and you have explored the sound possibilities connected with each, form a “sound art orchestra” to perform arrangements of original performance poetry. Some students will be shy about performing their poem, but may be more comfortable performing in a group of sound artists. However, we strongly urge that participation is a voluntary choice.
Sound art circle- One way to keep sound art from overpowering performance poetry is to encourage sound artists to listen to the arrangement and play when it is appropriate. It is usually not necessary for all instruments to be played at once. Form a circle with sound artists ready with their instruments. Then go around the circle, allowing each sound artist to play momentarily by themselves. Encourage the group to then play their instruments in the order that they are sitting in the circle without stopping the flow of the sound and without interfering with each other’s sound. This teaches that an “orchestra” is made up of many artists and instruments and that they need to work together rather than compete with each other. A further step is for the teacher or another participant to become the “conductor,” pointing at which sound artists should play while the others are silent.
Principle: Find a creative new approach.
During the course of our three-day artist residency in Rangely, Colorado, TVS and two fingers tried something new. With every class that we performed for and interacted with, we took a few minutes out to ask the students what kind of food they would add to the school cafeteria menu if they could. The idea came from our group breakfast the first morning in town where we jokingly came up with new menu items for the restaurant we were visiting. It was fun to come up with goofy food items and we knew that it would be a perfect activity for our students. However, the first class we tried it in- a high school group- answered with responses like “McDonalds” and “Burger King.” So for the next class, I first offered some suggestions- such as- then let the kids loose with their own ideas. Thanks to the first couple of examples, the kids caught on quick and the suggestions flew. We took notes from each class that participated, reviewed them and picked the funniest and most creative suggestions. At the final concert marking the end of our residency, we read the best entries and could hear audible responses from kids who heard their suggestions read aloud. Not only was it fun for them to brainstorm the responses, but reading the collected suggestions at the final performance created an opportunity for 25 kids to feel like their words had been heard. TVS
Turn Everyday Routines Into Poetry Fun Create activities that use everyday activities as the initial inspiration. How can subjects such as school cafeteria food, textbook titles, television shows and street names suggest a way to solicit responses that are fun and creative? Take note of the responses and then present them in an edited form. Choosing to present only the best responses inherently signals a desired level of quality.
Recognize Community Achievement: Look for outstanding achievements in the surrounding community and use them to encourage writing. If you don’t hear about any outstanding achievements, then make them happen. Create a poetry contest and honor the winner with press releases and a premiere event. Make it an annual award that becomes a tradition at your school.
Look for Ways to Combine Subjects: Create situations that require response and interaction. The more voices the better. Use the work immediately in a formal context. Encourage word collaborations.
Principle: Listen with respect.
How to Plan Poets Out Loud! Sessions
For general population classes- for all ages with no particular specialty- the presentation of performance poetry becomes more important than interactive elements. Here the basics, including definitions and examples, should be given first priority. Decide what topics will be covered and what examples are the most appropriate. Fit the material into an organized grouping of days. This can be for one teacher/one class or consider team teaching/more than one class. The more input, the better the classroom experience. Add word work activities once the basics have been established. Encourage every student to participate in some way, if not in working with words, then adding sound art to the words of others.
Workshops are not meant to be for general populations. Students should be involved in some class work with the subject or related subjects (like literature, theater, music). Students should be selected by teacher recommendation or by invitation. The basics should still be covered, but rapidly. This part of the program assumes a certain amount of knowledge of the subject beforehand. Here, the interactive aspects of the program become most important. Discussion and the sharing of ideas should be openly encouraged rather than relying on presentation. This is about putting minds together. Plan on more than one meeting since multiple sessions yield better work. Consider creating an event, either in the classroom or in public so that work can be applied.
Negotiate everyone’s ideas.
Verify all arrangements.
Expect the unexpected.
Notify the media.
Thrive with teamwork.
INVENT the event…
Performance Poetry Events
Why create a performance poetry event? The answer is simply that performance poetry is meant to be performed. Poems on the paper are not nearly as effective as poems that are recited out loud. What becomes important is not just the act of writing a poem, but also relating it to other people. This completes an artistic cycle and offers instant reaction. This is a chance to connect with others and to make expression a public experience. But putting together an event, even on a basic level, requires planning and work ahead of time. Following are tips for planning and producing a successful event.
Nuts and bolts
Create a committee
No matter how ambitious, no one person can do it all or should do it all. While committee work can be difficult at times- thanks to differing opinions- the input of many perspectives and many ideas can make an event stronger and richer.
This is a big part of the “committed” in “committee.” Committee members must be willing to meet to discuss progress. Meetings serve to inspire members by keeping the event a priority.
Make a mission statement
Clearly define what the group is trying to present and accomplish. Write these basic goals down in a statement that can be referred to in times of disagreement.
Pick your event
First of all, decide what kind of event will take place. Is this event meant to feature individual poets? Will there be group readings of poems? Is this an “open mike” opportunity or is this a “planned and approved” program? Is there a possibility to collaborate with other classes/departments, such as foreign language, music, dance, theater, video or art departments? Do you want to create a “poetry slam,” turning the use of words into a contest? Is there a particular theme that participants should follow? What kind of event suits the unique needs of your group?
Choose your venue
Choosing where to have your event is as important as what kind of event it is. While only a little research can yield plenty of community sites for an event, also consider creating a unique venue like a private location or an otherwise everyday setting.
List all jobs
Write down everything that needs to be done. Try to anticipate problems and create solutions or ways of dealing with the situation. Decide clearly who does what. It becomes the responsibility of the committee as a whole to make sure that everyone does their job. Create a time line and build in extra time.
Try to cover production expenses by involving sponsors. Approach individual contributors and try to attract sponsorships from local businesses. Often businesses will support events as a kind of advertising.
Have a rehearsal
Let everyone get used to being on stage and using a microphone. Practice rules of behavior. Have a stage manager monitor time.
Make a program
A program is an opportunity to thank everyone involved in a tangible form. You can also publish some poems too.
Principle: Event planning should be complete and thorough.
Evaluate your goals.
Value all support.
Engage the audience.
Take control of time.
EVENTS succeed with planning…
Poetry in Action: As performers, we have experienced a wide range of events, each with its own character and results. For example, in the spring of 2001, we presented performance poetry and sound art in collaboration with two dance groups in a full theater production. We composed our own parts and performed on stage with the dancers in a dramatic and exciting climax to the show. On the other hand, we also performed a house concert for our host in Northampton, MA during our 2001 tour, set up in the recreation room and projecting into a living room full of friends. Even though MJR kept turning the hot tub on by brushing against the switch during the performance, it was thrilling to play in such a private and intimate environment. Performances can take place anywhere- in a theater or in a living room- and each venue has its own advantages. TVS & MJR.
The Bigger Picture
Marketing is the process of attracting an audience to your event- and for covering your costs. It begins with the human resources available to every group- friends, relatives, acquaintances and associates. Do not underestimate the value of personal contacts. Also do not depend on personal contacts to make an event successful. Seriously consider opening your event to the public. To start marketing, make a list of every possibility, then direct efforts in order to make full contact. Use personal invitations, posters and flyers. Also use word of mouth in the social setting or on the phone. When seeking funding from grant organizations or business sponsorships, don’t forget to put their information on posters and programs. Then use these contacts for marketing purposes. If they are willing to sponsor an event, then they may also be willing to help market it as well.
Your best and most effective way to market an event to the public is to contact and attract media support. However, media support doesn’t guarantee public involvement. That is why the right presentation is important to not only receive media attention, but to also make the event enticing to the public. Give your event a creative name or develop a theme that turns your event into something special and different. Then create a “press release” that informs each kind of media of the coverage opportunities:
Media Coverage Opportunities
Print- A press release should be on one page only, using front and back if necessary. Make the appearance of the press release neat, use large type size and a readable font. Put all absolutely essential information into a single paragraph including time, date, place, name of event, contact info. Then include a prose description of event including who, what and why. Use upbeat, positive and assertive language (not “try to” or “hope to.”) Repeat contact info again. Find out and meet deadlines. Newspapers can be daily, weekly and monthly while magazines can be monthly, quarterly or annual. Deadlines are different for each. Do you have a photo that you can enclose?
Radio- A radio “PSA” (Public Service Announcement) is usually very brief and can be read over the air in 15-30 seconds or less. Is there a talk show or program that would feature students?
Television- For television, spell out what are the visual opportunities. Video tape a rehearsal and send that with a press release, or invite a television crew to a rehearsal.
Principle: Tell Everyone about your event.
TVS- Tim Van Schmidt is a published poet, journalist, freelance writer, recording artist, musician, record producer, executive director of an annual music festival, radio commentator and performer. Born in Illinois in 1956, TVS has lived most of his life in the Western United States including Arizona, California, Washington and Colorado. He is also a husband, father, hiker, traveler, soccer coach, film enthusiast and science fiction fan. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications throughout the country and as a member of TVS and two fingers, he performs and teaches workshops for all grade levels.
Heart hammering, skin tight,
Corpuscles themselves grasping,
While rocks bend low,
The trees snare the sun, a
Waxy sheen glistening in
The moment that doesn’t matter.
Their impersonal history won’t
Mark this: it’s hard for
A human hulk to move,
Kick into the snow, rise when
Everything goes down. TVS
MJR– Mark J. Rosoff is a performance poet, sound artist and recording producer (SAL: Sound Art Laboratories, Fort Collins, Colorado.) With 22 years experience as a therapeutic recreation specialist, he teaches first aid, wilderness first responder and CPR as owner of the Front Range Institute of Safety. Born and raised in Bridgeport, Connecticut, MJR received his MA in Therapeutic Recreation in 1984, is a husband, father of two and has lived in Colorado since 1976. He is the President of the Board of Directors for Dance Express, a dance troupe for developmentally disabled adults. As a member of the group TVS and two fingers, MJR is also an organizer for performance poetry workshops, festivals and community events.
If you could
I mean, if it was OK
Or no one would find out
And it wouldn’t hurt anyone
Or it’s just a stage
And it will change
And you can’t remember
What “it” is anymore
Or you don’t want to. MJR
Thanks to Dave Zekman,
friend and artistic collaborator.
Also thanks to Ellen Rosoff, Bob Brick,
Mary Lansing and Dan Spitler.
Poem from Bridgeport, Connecticut
The wind, the green waves
Void peace, echoes
And repeats, spinning
Flies like the crow,
Flie Twenty-two points, plus triple-word-score, plus fifty points for using all my letters. Game’s over. I’m outta here.s like aliens
In the pond, through
The smoke, the
Thumb sized toilet stands
On a wooden pegleg
In never never land. Gimp.
Punishment. An ocean
Poem from Northampton, Massachusetts
In the Siren’s Womb
The hollow cave is full of sonic space
And dreams pool in an eerie marble room,
A run-on, a satellite
Resonating above the space.
It’s unreal in the great below
And the ambiguous sonar is foreign,
In a telephone world.