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Guest Post: Carly Brown on Acting and Spoken Word

Hi everyone! I’m delighted to be featuring another guest post on my blog today, this time from brilliant writer and performer (and all around lovely human) Carly Brown. I remember watching videos of Carly’s poems online before I even met her and being blown away by her work. Carly performs imagery-laced, tightly-written pieces which often carry important messages shot through with perfectly timed humour. In addition to her spoken word practice, she also writes poetry for the page as well as prose, and she’s currently writing her debut novel! Carly and I had quite similar routes into spoken word in that we both grew up performing onstage: myself in dance, her in theatre. In this essay, Carly shares how her theatre background has informed her spoken word practice. (I wrote a similar post a while back on how my dance background helped me in spoken word—you can read it here). 

Hope you enjoy! As always, if you have something to share regarding spoken word creative practices, theory, or the Scottish live poetry scene, I’m always open to feature folks on this site. Just drop me a line through the ‘Contact’ page. Cheers! – Katie

 

How My Theatre Background Impacted My Spoken Word Poetry

by Carly Brown

I was a theatre kid. I grew up performing in at least two plays a year since about the age of ten. I have performed in operas and in Shakespeare plays, in musicals, in modern comedies and even once as a pretty terrible mime. While I always knew that I wanted to write and tell my own stories, acting was one of the great joys of my childhood and university years, bringing me confidence, an artistic outlet and friends who would happily sing the Valjean/Javert duet from Les Misérables with me at full volume. But theatre also brought me lots of skills and techniques that were of enormous value when I transitioned to becoming a spoken word poet.

Of course there are lots of differences between traditional live theatre plays and spoken word. For one thing, you’re not usually playing a character with spoken word poetry (unless it’s a persona poem), although this concept of ‘playing a character’ gets complicated quickly, which I talk about a little later. With spoken word, you’re also not wearing costumes on stage or using any set or props. And, crucially, you are not interacting with other people on stage (unless it’s a group piece, but even then, that’s very different from a play). Lots of acting, as they say, is reacting to what your fellow actors are giving you. With spoken word you are pretty much alone up there. Just you, the mic, and the audience. No pressure, right?

Yet it is no surprise that many spoken word poets have a theatre background. The two art forms share a lot of similarities and there are lots of lessons and tools that I took from my experience as an actor and applied to my performance poetry. I’ve laid out a few of them here. While my particular style of spoken word is a highly performative one, this piece is for any spoken word poets who might be curious about how the techniques of live theatre could impact their art. But it’s also for actors who might want to try their hand at spoken word. And it’s for those who enjoy seeing live performances of various kinds and are interested in how these two different art forms can interact with and borrow from one another, from the perspective of someone who practices both.

Carly (R) in a production of Brian Friel’s Translations in the Byre Theatre, St Andrews

 

#1 Theatre helped me learn how to memorize stuff

I am of the opinion that you do not have to memorize your spoken word poems, but there are a variety of reasons why you might want to. Memorization eliminates one barrier between you and the audience and often allows you to connect with the audience more fully when you don’t have to glance down at a paper. It also frees up your hands for gestures and further physicality, which can make your performance more dynamic and exciting to watch.

When I decided that I wanted to perform my poems by memory, my theatre background came in very handy! This is because I was already a memorization pro after years of practice memorizing lengthy monologues in Elizabethan English. Memorization is a muscle and, like any muscle, you can strengthen it with practice. By the time I started competing in slams, at about the age of twenty or twenty-one, I had already clocked countless hours pouring over highlighted scripts, making sure that I knew exactly what to say when the curtain went up. Because with live theatre, if you forget a line, it’s not just your butt on the line. It’s your cast members as well who are depending on you.

When I went to start memorizing my own poems for the stage, which were typically only about two or three minutes in length, I was actually relieved. These poems seemed so short. Also, this time, if I forgot a line, A) nobody knew what the line was supposed to be and B) nobody would have to recover onstage from the mistake except me!

Through my decade of acting, I had figured out what worked for me to memorize stuff. For me, memorization is very visual. I see the words in my mind as I say them. I kind of picture the shape of them on the page and that helps me a lot. So I always print off my poems and go through them line by line, adding more after I’ve got one bit down. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I have a ‘photographic memory’ (I’m no Sherlock), but my memory is a visual one. What about you?

If you’re an actor looking to try out spoken word poetry, this practice memorizing texts will serve you well. You already know what works for you, and what doesn’t, to get those words into your brain. And if you’re a spoken word poet and want to memorize your own work, I’d suggest developing your memorization skills by trying to memorize a poem or a dramatic monologue that you did not write. Maybe a short one to start? Pay attention to what works for you (and doesn’t work) when trying to memorize it. Maybe you picture the text in your head, like me? Maybe not. At the very least, your new memorized poem will be a cool thing for you to whip out to impress people at parties (if, like me, most of your friends are on the nerdy side). At best, you’ll have developed that trusty Memorization Muscle and made it easier to memorize your own work in the future, if that is your goal. Katie has also written a lengthy blog post dedicated to memorization tools, so definitely check that out as well!

 

#2 Theatre helped me to recover if I forgot words onstage

We all forget our words from time to time. I’ve done it in plays and at spoken word shows. Sometimes the words come back to me, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I just say: ‘Well, they’re gone. The words have chosen to take a holiday today and not invited me along. On to the next poem.’ It’s fine. It’s human. My theatre background taught me to forgive myself and to recover when I’m stuck.

I always think back to that time when I blanked on the lyrics to the song ‘Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee’ when I played Rizzo in a high school production of Grease. I just twirled around onstage and cackled and fluffed my hair until I remembered the lyrics again. Theatre gives you the confidence to know that you can mess up and you can recover. That audience at Grease did not know any different. And even if they did notice, they probably didn’t care. Just keep going and the audience will move on with you. They want to have a good time and they don’t want to see you suffer. As Harold Zidler sings in Moulin Rouge: ‘The show must go on!’

So if you’re an actor, remember that you have the skills to recover if you forget a line in your poetry or stumble over your word. You can improvise until you remember or just move swiftly onto the next bit. You’ve been there before. And if you are a spoken word poet, channel that ‘show must go on’ mentality and just crack on, even if you forget or make a mistake. Roll with it. Most of the time, nobody will notice or care. They will be too busy being wowed by your wondrous words to worry about the fact that you forgot that one line in the middle.

 

#3 Theatre taught me to project

On fairly technical level, I learned from acting how to project my voice, using my diaphragm, into a crowded room. Also how to slow down, stand up straight, breathe, and not rush through the words so quickly that nobody can hear them. These skills are useful for delivering anything live and they help make sure that you are clearly understood and heard by your audience. Mics are often used at spoken word events, which is great. If the audience cannot hear you, they cannot interact with your work.

 

#4 Theatre helped me overcome stage fright

I think one of the hardest things about spoken word is those first few times that you get up on stage and read your work aloud to a live audience. It’s scary. I remember so vividly doing it at a student union in St Andrews – my shaking paper, the crackle of the mic, my friends with their eager smiles in the front row. I was super nervous, even after years of performing in plays. But there’s something different when it’s your own work. Something more vulnerable. If people don’t like the lines I’m saying in a play, they can blame Tennessee Williams. If they don’t like the lines I’m saying in my spoken word poem, they can blame me.

Nevertheless, my experience on stage acting helped give me the confidence to get up on stage to try performing my own work. I knew that I had gone on stage before and I had not died. And, as with the memorization thing, the more that you do it, the more confident you become.

So if you’re an actor, you’ll be ready to weather the nerves and get yourself on stage, because you’ve done it before in another context. And if you’re a budding spoken word poet who really suffers from stage fright, maybe dip your toe into the water of spoken word slowly by maybe signing up for an open mic (especially one you’ve been to as an audience member). Or practice for friends and family, your partner or your cat, first, before performing to a room full of strangers. Or try an improv class or a spoken word workshop, as well. Anything that gets you up, in front of people and saying things, will be good practice.

 

#5 Theatre helped me access emotions on stage

This is probably the biggest way that my theatre background has helped me with my spoken word and it’s definitely not something I expected.

When you write a poem, the emotions that you’re writing about (heartbreak, frustration, longing, full on existential crisis etc.) often feel very true and very real for you in that moment of composition. However, when you go to perform it months, sometimes years, later…not so much. Those emotions and those situations might not be relevant or so emotionally charged for you. You might not be able to connect with the poem anymore. It might feel like a different person wrote it.

Yet you must find some way of connecting with it in order to deliver it to an audience in an interesting and dynamic way. You must bring it to life in the best way you can by conveying those emotions, one way or another. This is a lot like acting. In fact, you could even say that it is acting.  It is playing a character. That character just happens to be an earlier version of yourself.

I personally reconnect with the material in two ways. The first way is that I imagine a situation, person or object that feels relevant to me that day and channel that as I’m delivering the poem (it’s been a while since I studied acting, but I think this way is tied to the Stanislavsky method and also to method acting). For example, if I’m delivering a poem where I’m meant to be angry about something I’m no longer actually angry about, I’ll think of something that, right now, makes me angry. Maybe I’ll think of President Donald Trump, for instance. Or if I’m meant to be delivering a sweet poem and need to convey emotions of love or affection, I will think about my partner. Or a friend I really care about. I picture that person, their face, the way they make me feel. (It’s cheesy but it works!).

The second way is that I try to tap into the emotions of what I was feeling at the moment that I wrote it. After all, the person who wrote the poem was me (at one point in time). So I try to remember those emotions. What did this situation that I describe feel like? Look like? How can I best convey those feeling to an audience with my voice and body?

 

#6 Theatre taught me about pace

And once I’ve tapped into those emotions, using one or both of those techniques, I try to vary it up a little bit as well. There’s no point in keeping the volume turned up to Emotional Level 11 for the whole poem. People will tune out if you’re just straight up screaming at them the whole time. Of course, this depends on the poem. But my acting background taught me to think about how I can vary things up and find different emotions and layers in my own writing. When I write, I often try to include various different emotions and tones within one poem.

Even if you’re a performer who is not particularly theatrical with their delivery, it still usually pays to vary up the pace. If you read everything at the exact same pace, with no pauses or emphasis or variation at all, you risk people tuning out (which I’ve learned the hard way). Theatre taught me to really look at a piece and consider the different emotions and tonal shifts within it and how I can convey that to the audience.

 

#7 Theatre made me love live performance

One of the things that I loved most about live theatre is that it’s, well, live. Every time you deliver a monologue it’s different because the audience is different, the space is different and you are different. Same with spoken word. Theatre has taught me to not just barrel ahead with my memorized poem, doing it the same way each time, but really thinking of ways that I can make it new, that I can emphasize different words or perhaps pause at a different moment. Then seeing how the audience reacts. In a sense, it’s new each time.

Different audiences will also react wildly differently to the same material. Live theatre helped me make peace with the fact that one audience will howl with laughter, one will nod reverentially, and one will fall asleep. It depends on them, on you, on the space you’re in and myriad other factors. It’s that strange alchemy of doing it live that you cannot always predict or control.

Yet there is nothing that compares to connecting in that moment with complete strangers in a dark auditorium and hearing them laugh or sigh or occasionally sniffle with tears. It makes me feel magical. In a way, it kind of is. Live storytelling is ancient. Before we wrote anything down, we were sitting in circles around a fire and telling each other tales. When you step on stage, that’s what you’re connecting to. Centuries of stories and storytellers. Which is pretty amazing.

Live connection with an audience is the main thing that these two art forms share and if you love one of them, chances are you’ll enjoy the other too. Even if you’re an actor who doesn’t want to write spoken word poems, check out a poetry slam or an open mic and see what those incredible poets can do in only three minutes. Or if you’re a spoken word poet, buy a ticket for a play in your local area and see how those actors dive deep into their roles and bring that story to life, in that moment. I think you’ll find that each art form has much to offer the other.

 

Carly (3rd from R) rehearsing with other cast members for a production of Dancing at Lughnasa in St Andrews

 

Bio: Carly Brown was Scotland’s National Champion of Slam Poetry in 2013 and placed 4th at the World Series of Slam Poetry in Paris. She’s the author of a poetry pamphlet, Grown Up Poetry Needs to Leave Me Alone, which can be found here (https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/560444307/grown-up-poetry-needs-to-leave-me-alone), as well as a children’s picture book, I Love St Andrews. Carly is currently pursuing a PhD at University of Glasgow and working on her first novel. https://carlyjbrown.com

 

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Archiving Spoken Word: Some Thoughts

Hello everyone! I’m writing today on the subject of archiving and documenting the contemporary spoken word scene in the UK.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’m currently working on my PhD at the University of Strathclyde researching the performance of authentic selfhood in UK spoken word. I’m using an oral history methodology to collect data for this research – I’ve been conducting interviews with spoken word artists, event organisers, publishers, critics, and others engaged in the scene since May. To date I’ve collected over 60 interviews, and by the end of my data collection this month I’ll likely have approximately 70.

A major motivation behind my PhD has always been to contribute to a more rigorous critical culture around contemporary spoken word, as I’ve observed that unfortunately that seems to be lacking. There are several reasons I think that’s the case – one being that this is a relatively new (whilst also ancient) art form, one being that it’s been often considered low art (cough cough Harold Bloom calling slams “the death of art”), and one being that the scene has tended to be rather grassroots and underfunded.

There are other reasons as well which I won’t go into here, but all of these factors have contributed to a culture in which it’s been unfortunately rare to receive a well-informed, in-depth review for one’s work, to have awards for achievements in the field which are judged by experts and carry real weight, or even to have a standardised language to discuss the structures and practices in one’s own work.

The interviews I’ve been able to conduct with artists and others in the field are therefore wonderful occasions for me (and, I hope, for the interviewees) because they’ve allowed us to have deep discussions about their creative processes, the complex politics of this art form, and its history and future.

They’ve also been rewarding because I know they will be archived and thus serve as a record of this boom period in our art form. The Scottish Oral History Centre in Glasgow will be archiving all of these interviews, which will carry different levels of public access depending on the artists’ wishes. I’m delighted about this, as in order to build this critical discourse we need to understand the breadth of opinions and experiences in our scene (Again and again in this research process I’ve been struck by the diversity of approaches to our form – homogenous we are definitely not). I’ve learned so much through these conversations, and I’m sure those who access the archive once it’s public will as well.

My data collection and archiving pertains to critical materials: conversations about craft, etc. But there’s another question here: how do we archive the actual art? Ours is an inherently ephemeral art form: spoken word poets are performance artists who (generally) write with the intent to perform material live to an audience, and thus publication and archival is usually not a consideration in the creative process.

Today on Twitter, several of us engaged in documenting and archiving the UK spoken word scene got into a discussion of how to best go about this work. The lovely and extremely hard-working David Turner of Lunar Poetry Podcast has written a blog post summarising those discussions and suggesting some routes forward, which I’m linking to here and I’d highly recommend reading: https://lunarpoetrypodcasts.com/2017/11/10/legacy-building/ 

David’s post excellently covers many of the practical issues around archiving, and I don’t have anything to add there. I do want to muse briefly on the questions of why we archive and a few things to keep in mind around it.

One thing it’s important to remember is that the act of archiving is inherently political, particularly given the ephemeral nature of our form. I know several poets who have actively resisted their work being fixed in any way, including rejecting opportunities for print publication and for their live performances to be filmed. For those artists, their work is only meant to exist as a live communicative act between them and their audience, and thus to record and archive them would be to bastardise their work and disrespect their wishes.

I bring that up as a reminder that archiving – though we may think of it as a dusty, bland process – can actually be controversial. As well, the question of who is doing the archiving and who can access the archive is of course very political. If those building the archives are all of the same demographic or geographic background, they/we are likely to miss entire communities, leaving an incomplete history with no record of swathes of artists. As one of the few academics researching spoken word, I have been incredibly conscious of my privileges and what work I have tended to access. When inviting poets to participate in interviews, I worked to ensure I wasn’t simply interviewing my friends or those with similar experiences or styles to myself – but there is always more that can be done to ensure academic work and archive building is less biased.

There is also the important question of accessibility. Spoken word has long prided itself on being an accessible art form, both in terms of the affordability of being an artist (you don’t even need a pencil) and lack of a requirement for any formal education in poetry to practice it, as well as the accessibility of the work itself to a wide range of audiences. For any archive to be expensive or otherwise involve a barrier to access it would undermine many of the core tenets of our form. I’d speculate that this is a factor behind many artists publishing their work via free, Internet-accessible mediums such as YouTube (there are of course other factors there as well, and a discussion to be had around the sustainability of careers when the primary publication vehicle doesn’t net a profit, but that’s another subject). But given that YouTube can’t serve as a permanent or reliable archive of work, it seems important to find others which are longer-lasting but equally as accessible.

Wrapping up here, as I’m conscious this is already a long post (I’m in thesis-writing mode so brevity is a challenge right now!) – I think that documenting the scene and curating diverse and comprehensive archives is vitally important to developing a critical discourse within our field. This should include not only holding and recording conversations around creative practice, but also the poems themselves. However, we need to be mindful as we go about this work about the wishes of the artists regarding whether or not they wish their work to be fixed and preserved in our living art form. I should emphasise here that I’m not a librarian nor do I have much experience in information and library sciences, so I’m not writing with any expertise in that field! Any ideas folks have to contribute are of course more than welcome in the comments.

Thank you as always for reading! David’s article contains links to several documenters of our scene, which I’d highly recommend you check out.

 

PS. Last week I read US poet and scholar Javon Johnson’s new book “Killing Poetry: Blackness and the Making of Slam and Spoken Word Communities.” It’s an excellent exploration in US slam culture, particularly as it pertains to the performance of race. I may do a full review of it soon, but in short – if you’re interested in spoken word and want a critically rigorous but accessible text on it, I’d highly recommend reading it.

Self-Care during Edinburgh Fringe

Hello again, everyone! As I mentioned in my last post, it’s nearly time for this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. While I couldn’t be more excited about the show I’m performing in this year (Loud Poets) and the opportunity to see other artists’ shows, I also wanted to write a post acknowledging some of the more difficult elements of the Fringe. The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, which means it’s a thrilling confluence of international artists, complete with opportunities to network and soak in various styles of performing arts. It also means that it can be overstimulating, exhausting, and expensive. This being my third year performing at the Fringe, I’m by no means an expert, but I have accrued some tips for artists – and for festival-goers – on how to have a healthy Fringe. I’m sharing them here in the hope that they may be useful for others based in or travelling to Edinburgh this August.

  1. Make sure you eat!

This might seem obvious, but I can’t stress it enough. The first year I performed at the Fringe, I lost 20 lbs over August because I transitioned from a generally sedentary life to one where I wasn’t getting enough sleep and was on my feet flyering and performing all day. Trying to save money meant I sometimes didn’t eat as much as I should have. But I learned my lesson: skipping meals leaves you exhausted and grumpy, and that’s no fun! This year I’ve stocked up on granola bars and I’m planning lots of big batch, easy-pack meals that I can store in my fridge and grab on my way out the door (I highly recommend egg-broccoli-cheese mini quiches and fajita bowls with rice, beans, veg, and cheese). And make sure you always pack a water bottle, especially for shows in those sweaty cramped venues. Staying fed and hydrated doesn’t need to be pricey, and it is essential!

2. Plan in advance…

The Fringe doesn’t sleep – there’s always shows on to go see, flyering to do, social media to be updated. It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that you must always be working! While there is a lot of work to do to keep a show afloat, I’ve found it to be more productive for me to plan the shows I want to see and the times I want to flyer in advance. That way, each morning when I wake up I have a plan to tackle, rather than facing a wall of stress and anxiety but being unsure of how to get everything done. This also goes for planning your other work – giving yourself blocks of time to get certain pieces of work done, and other blocks of time for every-day tasks like laundry and dishes.

3. … but be flexible enough to go with the flow.

You never know when an opportunity will pop up, or a performer will fall ill, or some unexpected non-Fringe related work will need to be done ASAP. Over August, it’s simply impossible to stick to a schedule 100%. Plan ahead, but be easy enough to go with the flow of whatever’s happening on that particular day.

4. Find your happy place.

I mean this one literally and metaphorically. Literally: find that place in the city where you’re happy and return there whenever you need it. If you’re an extrovert, that might be the Banshee Labyrinth at midnight with loads of pals and a pint. If you’re more introverted, like me, that might be a quiet close off the Royal Mile where you can retreat if you need 5 minutes to yourself in the middle of the chaos. There’s a garden near the bottom of the Royal Mile which is always peaceful where I love to go if I can spare the time to sit and breathe and eat. In the metaphorical sense: if you have a meditation practice, remember to take the time to be present – or if you don’t, now might be a good time to start! Go in your mind to the beach, or to a blank space – whatever floats your boat and brings you some calm.

5. Take care of your body.

With the chaos that the Fringe brings, it’s easy to stop all the habits that keep you going – to take on the “Well, it’s OK to not exercise or sleep and just live on chips and cider for a month” mentality. And – hey, a little bit of that is unavoidable. But try to keep self-care habits going to the extent you can. Last year’s Fringe, I did 10 minutes of yoga backstage at every Loud Poets show, and it helped so much. I know some Fringe performers who bought an inexpensive one-month pass to a spa in the centre of Edinburgh and went there for swimming and massages whenever they needed it (reminder to self: ask them which spa and sign up!). And again, don’t forget to eat and stay hydrated!

6. Remember this is just one month – life goes on!

This is a tip I’m borrowing from fellow Loud Poet Catherine Wilson. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the Fringe and to forget that there’s normal life after it. Try to schedule in something once a week that has nothing to do with the Fringe – maybe going to see a movie, or spending the morning in a quiet park, or Skyping with family, or visiting a friend and playing with their cat all day (let’s be honest, this is top of my list…). Remind yourself that normalcy is still there under the chaos!

***UPDATE: A few lovely folks commented on social media with more useful suggestions:

“It’s important to maintain a proper schedule for eating and sleeping – this stops your body clock from going haywire. Even if it’s knocked off from your usual timing, try to eat and sleep at the same times each day to maintain a semblance of normality.” – Sam Irving, comedian

“Ask for help if you’re struggling with anything, from low attendances to flyering to general wellbeing. You will feel like you can’t ask anyone anything because everyone is busy and doing their own thing, but conversely this means loads of people around you know what it feels like to be in your situation, so they know what will help, so ask them.” – Andrew Blair, poet

“My tip is be forgiving of yourself if you miss certain shows you wanted to see/can’t fit everything in. I never manage to catch EVERYTHING I want to see and, since Time Turners aren’t real, I had to learn to say: oh well!” – Carly Brown, poet

“Having given this some more thought, I think the best way to stay healthy is to try and discover (then rediscover when you forget) that you chose this presumably because you love it. You can be in love with something or someone and get fucked off and irritated with it or them on the regular. But when it’s good it’s fucking great, no? And natural for humans to seek it out. So you aren’t weird for wanting to do this. If you’re a performer you love to perform, you’re seeking that out. And if you do it a lot, you’re likely to find it. At the Fringe, you get to do it loads, surrounded by people looking for that too. So many of them. It’s exciting.

I reckon self-care is also about your attitudes to your work. The Fringe is such a good change to stop being afraid of it, to allow it to change. If you’re a spoken word performer, you get to constantly interrogate your own writing. And editing’s a form of love too. I’m going into this Fringe being so delighted to keep searching my writing for new methods of delivery, to keep making it better, and enjoy the moments of intimacy that you’ll only get from one audience ever, for the solitary hour that you’ll share together (and try to accept that each audience is different).

Which is a gushy way of saying, use it as an opportunity for a really big search of your work, of its meaning in objective and personal dimensions. Don’t let things stay static, or give the same performance every night (it’s pretty much impossible to do this anyway) – embrace every show being different, test things out, try and write down what you’re learning. You’ll come out of it better at being in love.” – Colin Bramwell, poet & actor

 

For my fellow Fringe folks – hope this tips are useful to you! If you have any other advice, please do comment it below. Thanks for reading, and have a fun and healthy August wherever you are! – K

Spotlight on Process Productions

Hello all! Just a quick post today to introduce you to a resource on UK spoken word that I’ve found really interesting and useful. The lovely London-based poet and filmmaker Tyrone Lewis has been interviewing UK poets about their practices and local scenes and turning these interviews into documentaries which he posts on his YouTube channel Process Productions. These documentaries are freely accessible to all and contain some fascinating insights from the UK’s top spoken word artists. In our art form which so rarely receives the critical attention it deserves, these interviews are a great resource for thinking critically about our craft, how we build communities, and how to challenge ourselves to innovate.

The first documentary, ‘NEW SHIT! The Open Mic Documentary’ focuses on the role of the open mic in scene building and supporting emerging artists. It’s linked below:

Tyrone is currently working on a series of episodes focusing on the poetry slam, entitled ‘Scores Please?’ Episode 1: Welcome to the Slam, and Episode 2: It’s All About Style are linked below. Disclaimer: Tyrone kindly interviewed me and several other Loud Poets for this series while he was up at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, so you may see a couple of familiar faces 🙂 

Hope you enjoy, and do check out the rest of the Process Productions YouTube channel – it’s a great resource not only for documentaries but for poems as well! -Katie

Tips for Memorising Spoken Word Poems

When I first began watching spoken word, it always seemed incredible to me that poets could memorise entire sets of material and perform them live what seemed like effortlessly (same goes for actors and musicians). I wondered how they held it all in their heads, and how they could still seem like they were telling a story for the first time even though they knew it word for word! Now that I’ve been performing poetry for about two years, I generally perform most of my material off-book. When I first started, it was pretty intimidating (and I still get very angry butterflies in my stomach every time I perform a new piece off-book the first time), but thanks to advice from other performers and techniques I developed in my own practice, it’s gotten much easier to learn and perform new material. So, here I’d like to share some of the memorisation and performance techniques that have helped me along the way, in case they’re useful for other folks.  More after the jump!

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Being an International Student in Scotland

Hi folks! Today I’m posting something different. I was asked recently by the UK-US Fulbright Commission to speak at a conference for Holyrood Events in Edinburgh entitled International Students: Creating a Home Away from Home. They wanted to hear the perspective of an international student in Scotland on the joys and challenges of studying here and the benefits international students bring to Scotland in addition to their economic value. I wrote the following talk for them and delivered it at the conference this morning (Feb 24, 2016). The conference was fantastic: it was chaired by Henry McLeish, the second First Minister of Scotland, and opened by Humza Yousaf, MSP, who spoke eloquently on the need to bring back the post-study work visa. It was incredibly empowering to hear government and institutional officials discussing immigration in positive terms and advocating easing the restrictions which the U.K. Home Office is currently ramping up. So often as international students I think we can feel isolated and powerless, so it was good to hear that on the issue of immigration, Scotland remains internationalist and that there is universal cross-party consent at Holyrood for facilitating international students’ journeys here and their ability to stay following their studies.

My talk is below. I would welcome any comments you have on it, especially from other international students perhaps facing similar challenges. Thanks, as always, for reading!

 

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2015: Year in Review

It’s nearly the end of 2015: time to reflect on what’s been a whirlwind year of new experiences, new work, and new opportunities. I learned so much this year about making, supporting, and critiquing performance poetry, from the perspective of the poet, the organiser/host, the promoter, and the critic. Here I gather some of my favourite moments of 2015 and project ahead to an exciting 2016! Read more after the jump.

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Becoming an Ambassador for Scottish Poetry Library

So excited to announce that Carly Brown and I will be piloting the new Scottish Poetry Library Ambassadors program this year! We’ll be tweeting, blogging, and sharing news about the SPL’s programs and how to get involved, as well as taking your ideas about events and programming that you’d like to see. Carly wrote a post for her blog that sums up some of what we’ll be doing and what the SPL has to offer – check it out, along with the rest of her great work! -Katie

Carly Brown

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be joining the Scottish Poetry Library team as part of their brand new Ambassadors program. The poet Katie Ailes  and I will be sharing information about the library on social media and also bringing you news about poetry events happening all over Scotland. You can follow us on Twitter at @SPL_Ambassadors and follow the Poetry Library at @ByLeavesWeLive.

What is the Scottish Poetry Library, you ask?? Well, it’s a pretty great place…

The SPL is an awesome national resource and an advocate for the art of poetry. It is one of three poetry libraries in the UK and their mission is to bring the pleasures and benefits of poetry to as wide an audience as possible. They do this in lots of different ways including:

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Upcoming Performances

Hello blog readers! I’m writing to share with you the dates I’ll be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August! I’m very excited to be performing with two great artistic collectives.  Continue reading

Halah Mohammed has posted the second part of our interview on her blog: read here!

Un-blocking Freedom Of Expression

Part 2

“How has your journey been with the Fulbright?”

“There is something really interesting about being an outsider and deeply studying an art form of another culture. I’m not looking at really established artists. I’m looking at people who have different day jobs and are doing poetry on the side because they love doing it. Also, performance poetry hasn’t gotten a lot of traction in academia yet. Partially because it’s new and because it’s perceived as low-brow art. I understand where that perception comes from but I still think performance poetry deserves more critical attention.

I’ve been welcomed (into Scotland) completely. I’ve never felt the sense of ‘what are you doing here?’ or ‘You’re from the States so you can’t perform at our Open-Mics!”. It’s never been that way at all. For me as an academic and an artist it’s been really good to have a dual identity because…

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