Monday, April 15, 2013

My Gilligan's Island "Performance Writing" Poetry Workshop

I was asked to do a THREE HOUR workshop on something along the lines of spoken word at Glendale Community College.

There are some people who are obsessed with separating everyone into categories of Performance Poets or Page Poets. Nowadays, they usually try to place me into the Performance Poet category (because you simply MUST be placed into one of these boxes. Apparently, the world is not varied enough to encompass more than one distinction.)

To be fair, I have been presenting my writing to live audiences in a wide variety of settings over the past few years (between professors in coffeeshops, between punk bands in bars, during the spin cycle at a laundromat, etc). But those stages don't exactly reflect my background. For years, I completely avoided poetry readings. Even while I began getting published, I assumed I would despise hearing poets put on their lame "poetry voice" and sling words for a crowd. It wasn't until a small press published my first chapbook that I finally went to a reading.

And I was surprised that it wasn't the horrible experience I was dreading. In fact, there were some poets doing amazing things in amazing ways that inspired me in new ways and opened possibilities that I never knew existed. It began to influence my writing in exciting new directions. Sure there were plenty of forgettable poets and lame poems, but I also learned quite a lot from those, as well.

So I decided to focus this workshop on aspects of reading poetry in front of crowds that had a big impact on my own writing. I like to think of it as "Performance Writing."

I was able to share a few videos throughout the workshop, so we could go over some poets who were doing things in front of crowds that I found impressive/inspiring. So I thought I would post some of those here:

This first one is from my first and biggest influence, when it comes to giving a voice to your writing. Even though I wasn't attending readings, I was listening to stacks of William S. Burroughs CD recordings and his delivery and tone were so perfectly matched to the voice of his pages that I would never get it out of my head.


This clip is from Nebraska poet Matt Mason. Years ago, I was lucky enough to get scheduled to open for him when he came to AZ for a reading and workshop. I didn't know him at all, but he was great and I've kept my eye out for his work ever since. This poem will be included in the next Pushcart anthology. Of all the bios I've seen over the years, bragging about their nominations, Mason is the first poet I've ever noticed to actually get one in. Right on.

This next one is from Ohio poet Scott Woods, whom I was fortunate enough to see/hear twice in the past few years. This one hit pretty close to home for a few people in the room, as I watched the reactions.

I included this Aimee Nezhukumatathil poem as a great example of a wonderful "page poet" who doesn't act like reading her poems with a little energy and vitality will undermine the craft that went into creating them. 


  1. Shawnte - you are so right (write) on, and offer excellent examples. I'm so tired of the "poetry voice" and I second your notion that 'page poets' can benefit from "reading poems with a little energy and vitality."

    I just wish I lived close enough to take your Performance Writing Workshop.


  2. It would have been great to have you with us. I should have opened it up through something like Skype. Ha.

    One of the great things was seeing some of the shy people end up feeling comfortable enough to eagerly share and participate, by the end of the session.

  3. Wonderful! You are doing good work.