This weekend I had the privilege of seeing Kate Tempest perform at the Bongo Club in Edinburgh (hosted by the Scottish Poetry Library and Rally & Broad) as part of her tour promoting her new collection Hold Your Own (website here, book available here). The venue was completely packed, with audience members lining the walls and sitting in the aisles; after the event sold out quickly, the hosts decided to release standing-room-only tickets, which from the look of it were snapped up just as quickly. It was wonderfully reaffirming to see the commitment to poetry evident in the willingness of people to venture out on a rainy Saturday night to listen to spoken word.
Sam Small, a Glasgow-based performance poet who hosts the Inn Deep poetry evening opened with a fast-paced, high-octane set of poems questioning humanity, love, and dastardly experiments on sleep deprivation with a good deal of cheeky humor (website here). After his impressive and hugely engaging set, the eminent Scottish poet Don Paterson took the stage to introduce Tempest and she took the mic. Continue reading
Last week I posted about how an inspiration chooses its medium: how a creative spark gets funneled into one genre or another. Today I will discuss how performance poetry is defined then offer some counterarguments to a culture that often deems it less worthy than published work.
How is performance poetry distinguished from page poetry? As I noted last week, I generally create performance poems from subjects that require an animated, physical performance to convey the energy behind them: political poetry and love poetry generally channel best into the performance medium for me. But perhaps more important than the subject is the poem’s adherence to a rhythm and its ability to tap into an emotional energy in both the performer and the audience. Performance poems need a beat behind them, a current that carries the piece forward and keeps the audience engaged. They often operate around a refrain, a central metaphor that remains consistent (my friend and fellow poet Freddie Alexander recently commented that my poetry works like DNA, with strands that recur and wrap the poem together; I think many poets use a similar structure, consciously or not). Performance poems need pauses for breath and effect. When writing a performance poem, the poet should understand how s/he will perform it: as I write, I’m actively reciting the poem in my head or aloud, feeling the rhythm. At the editing phase, I read the poem aloud again and again to refine any choppy or awkward language. Editing for me is generally an auditory evaluation to ensure the poem flows well; however, that is not to say I don’t pay attention to the words and the narrative arc of the piece. Continue reading
As I begin writing creatively again after a dry spell, I’ve been thinking a lot about how one creative spark, one subject, chooses which medium to be communicated in. By this I mean: when I start writing, when and how do I know in which format the piece will emerge? Will it be best conveyed through a “page” poem, a performance poem, prose, memoir…? It’s difficult to articulate how this “sorting” or “funneling” of work occurs, because often it feels as though it is not under my control (for more on this odd feeling of external creative impetus, see my post responding to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk here).
There are any number of inspirations that spark me to write. Personal memories are key, as are intense emotions. Current events can also be starting places. Sometimes it’s a phrase or metaphor that gets stuck in my head so I construct a piece around that one line. Regardless of how a piece begins, early in the process of composition I need to decide which medium will suit the subject best. Continue reading
Earlier this week I had a difficult day. I was feeling defeated, powerless, guilty, homesick, and exhausted. It was a day where I sensed being alone in the world, making me prone to self-pity and frustration. But I had planned on going to a dance class I’d seen online (a Contemporary class at DanceHouse Glasgow) so in the evening I made myself get up and go. Simply walking into the studio and stretching, moving my body through those rituals, felt like coming home. But even better, the session was focused on the release method and the teacher was leading us through the exact same exercises taught by my wonderful Bates College dance professors, Carol Dilley and Rachel Boggia. This was a session with an emphasis on trust: fall and I will catch you. Stumble and we, as a community, will run to your side and support you. It wasn’t the athletic dance experience that my body had been craving, but it was exactly the spiritual, mental experience that my psyche needed that day. To feel gentle hands on my sacrum, palms giving pressure guiding my spine into a curve, giving receptive feedback and supporting my lower back, my neck, my head: it was supportive without being invasive, suggesting without forcing. And to return that firm, reassuring touch to others in the room, to be an agent of support myself, was empowering: as I receive support I am reminded of my ability to give it back. Continue reading
The other day I watched an excellent TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (link here). I’ve never read the book or seen the movie, but Gilbert’s theories about art-making and responsibility have been sitting with me. Her argument is that today we place too much pressure on artists by assuming that all creative genius comes directly from them, somewhere internal to them. She looks back to ancient societies in which people believed that creativity derived from external forces: “geniuses” which acted as forces behind one’s hand, inspiring and lending to the creative process. Gilbert proposes that if modern society were to adopt a practice of perceiving art-making as a process aided by external forces, this would alleviate pressure on artists to make ever-better, increasingly impressive works throughout their career because they would have a sort of scapegoat to blame if the creative lighting didn’t strike, or the work didn’t turn out the way they wanted. Continue reading
A couple weeks ago, in the first seminar discussion for the Constructions of Scotland class I’m auditing at Strathclyde, we were introducing ourselves and the professor (Dr. David Goldie) said he’d heard I was a Scottish poet. “Well,” I fumbled, flattered but confused, “I do write poems and I’m in Scotland…” He replied, laughing, “There you go! A Scottish poet.” He then went on to unpack this and led us into a discussion of what constitutes identity, particularly in the literary world. It’s a question that’s been working in the back of my mind for weeks now: can I, as an American citizen freshly moved to Glasgow, really assume the title of Scottish poet? It’s true that I’ve written poems while physically in Scotland, as well as poems about Scotland. And I’m active in the Scottish slam scene while I’ve never taken the stage in the U.S. But still. My Philly accent gives me away as American the moment I open my mouth to read stanza one. It’s caused me to think: how do we define who is a Scottish writer? Or a Scottish dancer, or artist, or whatever one’s craft may be? Continue reading