This week: The Art of PerformanceEdited by: Crys-Busy Bee
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Hello! Welcome to this week's Poetry newsletter! I'm Crys-Busy Bee and I'll be your guide through the wonderful world of poetry this week.
Experiencing Poetry: The Art of Performance
When I was in college, I was introduced to a book called Stand Up Poetry, edited by Charles Harper Webb. This anthology is comprised of poetry that is meant to be read aloud, not just on the page. I appreciated the poems in the book not only for their musicality when read aloud, but also for their creative uses of pop culture and subjects I had not seen in poetry before.
Several years later, as a grad student in Pittsburgh, I was introduced to poetry slams and performance poetry. At the time, I was studying poetry at a school where I felt suffocated by "rules" and expectations. Very few people in my MFA program wrote performance poetry, because if we had, we surely would have received F's. We stuck to strict rules of what was "publishable" and "literary." I just never felt like I could please my professors. My work was quirkier and more personal than what they wanted.
Ironically, this same school brought in a fairly successful performance poet named Jim one semester for a one-time reading. I marveled at the way he had memorized his poems, the way he put his whole body into his reading. Unlike traditional poetry readings, where poets read in a monotonous tone we affectionately called the "poetry voice," this performance poet performed with animation, the inflection in his voice rising and falling at appropriate times, even taking on different characters' voices at times.
Later, Jim accompanied many of us to a poetry slam. The event was held in this dark and artsy lounge in an area of Pittsburgh I was afraid to go into. (I'm laughing at this memory now, because I would later work in that neighborhood and much worse ones.) For those of you who have never attended a poetry slam, the only way I can explain it to you is that it's an experience. It was the first time I ever heard poems read with live music played in the background, performed at rapid-fire pace, and with subjects ranging from love and sex to death and drugs.
That summer, Jim returned to teach a class on performance poetry, and my friends and I quickly signed up. I finally felt free to write the way my brain worked; at the end of the course, I had close to fifteen performance poems ranging in subject from body image to one written in the voice of Jack Kerouac's daughter Jan. At the end of the course, each of us were required to read our poems at a performance in a local bar. It was the only reading I had during my time in school that didn't make me shake with nervousness. It was truly freeing.
Writing performance poetry, or spoken word, or slam poetry, is not an exact science. I'm still not totally sure what differentiates performance from spoken word from slam, but it really doesn't matter. To me, they are all art forms that should be taken seriously in the poetry world. Some people argue that poetry should only live on the page and be interpreted by the reader. While some performance poetry isn't really that interesting to read on the page, it's poetry nonetheless, and should be treated with respect. After all, how many of us poets are willing to bare our souls on stage?
I had a hard time finding performance poetry to highlight this week! If you have any in your port (18+ rated and under) please send me some and I may include it next time!
Performance and Slam Poetry:
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Thanks to everyone who wrote in with comments on my last poetry newsletter in May! As much as I would have liked to, I didn't convince everyone that free verse is superior to poetry in form. But I appreciate everyone's opinions, and I'm thrilled to see so many who recognize the complexities of free verse!
Thank you for the definition and explaining free verse. Something to muse on. Clears confusion. -eyestar-Tinkerbell
Indeed, Crys. You said it. Free verse is as difficult as formal poetry, if not more so.
Thanks for an eye-opening newsletter. -Joywitchella Purple
I fully agree with what you say about free verse. I almost exclusively write in that style but the rhythm is incredibly important as well as the flow and the 'feel' of the words on your tongue. Are they cacophonous? Not often, but sometimes I receive reviews from authors who "don't get" my poetry or think it does not count because it does not rhyme or have what they deem 'structure' and I will be given a poor rating. This upsets me because they have not taken the time to understand my poetry or read it aloud. Like you said,free verse is liberating and lets me describe exactly how I feel without constricting me and forcing me to write a poem that is superficial for the sake of a rhyming scheme. -scribbler
Thanks for highlighting my piece and for pointing out that free verse poetry is certainly not easier than metered or rhyming poetry. Free verse poets require a keen understanding of all the tools in the box -- you need to know the rules to break 'em. -emerin-liseli
Perhaps this will also help your readers understand about free verse. "Myths of Poetry" [13+] -Eliot
Hi Crys-Busy Bee
Loved the explanation you gave about free verse poetry. I write a lot of poems and ususally, its free verse. While studying literature, I often felt my poems were kind of haphazard, since they didn't follow any rules or any speicified structure. Buy I agree with you; Poetry is about feelings; I write as I feel, and I try to keep as much of the original format as I can. Thanks again for explaining. -amnahejaz
Writing to the poet's own rules is the functional equivalent to writing with no rules. I think it was Robert Frost who said that free verse was like playing tennis without a net -- easy, but not satisfying. I acknowledge some fine free verse poetry, but for me this format starts with two outs and two strikes against it. There. I said it. I am biased against free verse. -Doug Rainbow
Too much of what is called "free verse" is actually prose in short lines.
You probably know that Robert Frost summarily dismissed free verse as: "...like playing tennis with the net down." -halday
Your masthead reads "Writing .com NEWSLETER POETRY."
That would seem to include all forms of poetry but all 10 of your Editors Picks are free verse. You should either change the masthead to read "NEWSLETTER FREE VERSE POETRY" or else take a more balanced approach and include structured poetry in your featured items. -iamfrank
Hi Frank! I appreciate your comments. When I write a poetry newsletter, I tend to pick poems that match whatever topic I'm covering, whenever possible. Because the newsletter was about free verse poetry, I decided to highlight free verse poetry. Each editor does things his or her own way, so you're sure to have newsletters full of poems in form sometimes!
Probably half the poetry I've written is what I consider "spoken word" poetry. When I write, it usually just comes to me and I rarely think about the form or type. I know spoken word is written to be said aloud with emotion, sort of like a performance but it doesn't have a certain form. So, is spoken word and free verse poetry basically the same thing? Does it just get the name from people performing their free verse poetry? Or are these two completely different things? -imjustme
Thanks for writing in! Unfortunately, I couldn't use the poem you included, but your question inspired me to write this newsletter! I don't know if there's an answer in there, but I hope you enjoyed it.
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