While written poetry has the page, and performance and acting has had film and television, for a long time the marriage of the two in the form of spoken word has been somewhat restricted to the hallowed halls of YouTube. In addition to this openly available forum for anything-goes, spoken word artists who resist publication of their work in the written format have relied largely on making CD's and DVD's to get their work out there. But now, online journals are starting to recognize spoken word as a legitimate form of art and entertainment within the world of poetry, distinctly different from the sort of poetry traditionally appears in print. Muse-Pie Press has recently launched the Bent Ear Review, a semi-annual online journal for spoken word. Bent Ear joins Muse-Pie's Shotglass Journal, a space for short poems; and the Fib Review which showcases Fibonacci Poetry - poems in which the syllable or word count is based on the numerical Fibonacci Sequence.
Check out Muse-Pie's launch into spoken word with Lonnard Dean Watkins performing alongside musicians Steve Morrison, Brent Weavers and Greg Rogan at the Kerouac Effect recently in Wellington, NZ.
After three flights and a total of 28 hours of travelling, I am safely back in the Land of the Long White Cloud with a backpack full of memories, a host of new friends and a big wide smile that refuses to go away. The 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam in Minneapolis was an awe-inspiring adventure of beautiful madness, at times so emotionally draining I had to take a few minutes for a walk around the block in the snow, to get my thoughts in order.
So many brave women, prepared to stand and tell their stories. There was laughter, tears, silliness, love, compassion, hilarity and at one stage, there was a moose. Special mention goes to the new Women of the World Poetry Slam champion Denice Frohman from Philadelphia who blew everyone out of the water. One hundred percent confidence, no frills, no bullshit, just raw, honest, original poetry. Just as it should be. At this stage, I am still doing a lot of reflecting and don't have all the words that I need to express just how special WOWPS was. I'm not sure I am eloquent enough to ever do so. All I can say is, tell your stories, share your joys and sorrows, and expand your perspectives. You don't need to go across the world to do so, people are waiting to listen to your words, just beyond your front door.Love and respect to all the amazing women who shared their poetry over the past week.Ali xo
In ten short days, I will be on the wintery streets of Minneapolis to compete in the the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam. I am ridiculously excited at this prospect and honoured to be the first woman to represent New Zealand in this four-day annual event!
While watching and learning from the array of voices that will be participating (72 poets! Seventy-two!) is the most appealing aspect of this tournament, the competitive side of me has been spending evenings on You Tube, checking out the competition.
I came across this poem, which I have watched again and again. While Albanian poet Gypsy Yo will not be competing in this years competition, she has featured three times in the Top 12 between 2009 and 2011, twice winning second place. This poem provides some insight as to why.
What I like best about "Autobiography" is Gypsy's ability to weave many many stories into one narrative, and to range from quiet contemplation into passionate despair and back again within a few lines.
Kingdoms are built on my shoulder blades
and wars are fought in my womb
Last week I blogged about the power of dressing truth up in story in order to get our messages across. People are far more likely to consider a view that is contrary to their own when you tie it up in a good story. My first attempt at performing spoken word poetry was a 'eureka' moment that demonstrated this fact. In 2010 I was working for an environmental NGO in Canada on a programme which involved encouraging people to conserve water in their homes. I went about my job armed with an arsenal of environmental and economic reasoning for using less water, a slickly produced booklet and a PowerPoint presentation full of fun facts and tips. Sometimes my presentations were well received; people were polite and took home a copy of the booklet ready to get to work saving water in their homes. But many appeared bored, and I felt uneasy about claims I had read about the failure of many recent government campaigns that sought to change behaviour. In his book Fostering Sustainable Behaviour: An Introduction to Community Based Social Marketing, Canadian environmental psychologist Dr Doug McKenzie-Mohr explores how information-heavy campaigns rooted in fact and reason often fall flat and do not achieve positive change. He attributes these failures to the fact that campaigns often ignore the realities of psychology and social interaction. He talks about how people are more likely to change their behaviour to live in a more sustainable manner, if friends, family or colleagues are already doing so. He also emphasizes the importance of using captivating information to appeal to your audience. Having recently read his book, I thought I would try some of these techniques to get my water conservation message out there in a different way. The result is the poem linked above. Firstly I told story about my own personal experience in putting myself on a month-long water diet: 25 litres a day for everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Cooking, cleaning, drinking, laundry, bathing, flushing... By way of contrast, where I live in Wellington, the average person uses 230 litres of water per day. American's average over 400 litres of water per day. Secondly, I used captivating imagery to encourage people to think about what it would be like to have severely limited access to water - emotively explaining my frustrations at accidentally spilling my heated bathing water and painting a picture of a woman in a developing country who has to walk huge distances each day to gather water for her family.
It is in these elements of storytelling that the true power lies. After I performed this poem to a crowded bar, I had people in the community coming up to me months later telling me how they had changed their habits to be more water-wise. People would tell me of their own innovative stories - catching water in a bucket as the shower heated up in order to water their plants later, turning the tap off when they brushed their teeth and having shorter showers (it was amazing and a little weird how many people told me that they had been thinking of me and my poem in the shower that morning...)
I had managed to achieve in a personal, vivid and entertaining performance, that which I had been struggling to do in my every day job - that is to capture an audience, deliver a message and have them remember it days, weeks, even months later.
I attribute this to the power of effective storytelling. What's your story?
I was reading a book recently about the power of storytelling and I came across an old Jewish teaching story that I'd like to share with you.
Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village.
Her nakedness frightened the people.
When Parable found her, she was huddled in a corner
shivering and hungry.
Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home.
There she dressed Truth in Story, warmed her up and sent her out again.
Clothed in Story, Truth knocked on the villagers doors
and was readily welcomed into their homes.
They invited her to eat at their table and warm herself by their fires.
Says it all really.
Stories have a great deal of power to influence good change in the world (they have a great deal of power to influence bad change too....that's not where my interest lies). However, the stories we tell about ourselves, about the type of person we are, about what we do, who we hang out with and what we believe in, often close the door to other stories that we don't see as compatible with our own. We all do it, we are all more likely to listen to someone who we think views the world a similar way to ourselves.
The key to getting people to open the door to unfamiliarity and ideas that they see as a threat to the stories they believe about themselves, is to dress your truths up in stories. This is quite different than telling lies - the foundations of your story must be firmly rooted in truth - but using analogy, metaphor and elements of fiction, you will find that people will be much more open and willing to lend you their ears.
A good example to follow in the next few days...
The past few weeks I have experienced something quite extraordinary. The concept of crowd sourcing has taken off in the past few years as people are increasingly turning to family, friends and even strangers to help them get their creative projects of the ground and turn dreams into reality. There are dozens of crowdsourcing platforms out there, including Kickstarter, Indiegogo and New Zealand's own fantastic site PledgeMe.The past few weeks I have experienced the depth of generosity of the human spirit. A generosity that will allow me, in a little over a month's time, to travel to the Women of the World Poetry Slam 2013, in Minneapolis, USA. I began my PledgeMe project in mid January thinking that it would be difficult to get people to donate money to my project. But I underestimated people's kindness. Despite allowing myself 5 weeks for the project to run, I reached my funding goal in a little over two weeks. There were pledges from friends, family, people I worked with, people I went to high school with, and even a few strangers.I believe passionately in the power of spoken word to inspire, motivate and move people to consider other views or ways of looking at the world. A large part of my motivation to attend WOWPS 2013 is to learn as much as I can about the ways that my poetic counterparts around the world are making change in their community and teaching people to share their stories through this creative medium. I guess my pledgers also believe in the power of story telling too! PledgeMe, along with most other crowd sourcing websites suggests that in return for monetary pledges towards a project, you pledge rewards back at those who donate. This innovative idea transforms people from passive donators sitting at home online, to active supporters - investors, even - in your project. After the close of my project deadline, I will be setting about sending out copies of my chapbook, writing haikus, posting performances of personalised poems on YouTube, and even driving to Palmerston North to cook dinner and perform a one-off poetry show for a particularly generous group of friends! All these rewards help me tell my story to my pledgers and in return, I will get to hear about their own stories (and in some cases, create their stories into poems!)There are still 12 left to pledge if you haven't already - although I have reached my funding goal, this sum represents only about half the funds I will need to get to WOWPS. So if you're feeling like you'd like to support me in this creative endeavour, maybe I can also buy lunches in Minneapolis.If you've got a creative endeavour you would like to see come together, remember you are not alone. There are people out there who believe in you and your ability to make things happen, and they will help you along the way.
Many thanks to those who have pledged. Your generosity astounds me, and I am truly grateful for your love and support.
I've just come home from ten days of camping at the beach on the Coromandel Peninsula, where I had time to actually do some stopping. You know, where you abandon all the little and not so little tasks that are on your never-ending to-do list, ignore your phone, your commitments and priorities in favour of lounging on the beach with a good book or a bottle of wine. I'm proud to say I only went online twice during these ten days, which is saying a lot!
But while I stopped doing, I didn't stop thinking, planning and plotting. I'm the kind of person who's always got a million ideas running around in my head. Some of them come to fruition. Some (perhaps, mercifully), don't.
I came across the sign above at a cafe in Whenuakite towards the end of my trip. It seemed to be shining there like a beacon. Not showing up on a Facebook newsfeed like so many of these kinds of memes we see. Those are too easy to dismiss, in our information-overload day-to-day existence.
No, this little baby was just hanging, innocuously in the corner, perhaps waiting for New Years to roll around and someone to glance up and realize, Yes. Yes, I do have to make it happen, it's not going to happen all by itself.
I've got many things that I would love to achieve this year. I bet you've got some too. So if you have an idea in your head, a career change in mind, a dream travel destination, then get planning and make it happen. Noone's gonna do it for you and I'm sorry to say that you're not getting any younger. Stop wanting, stop wishing, Make it happen!
It is time.
Time to get with the times.
Time to take the time to stop wasting time and get it together.
I've been toying with the idea of starting a blog for quite some time. It dawned on me earlier today, on Christmas Day, that what better day to begin a new blog on this day of sharing stories with your nearest and dearest. This day of new beginnings and the birth of beautiful things.
And while I have no misconceptions that the birth of this blog will any way, shape or form, rival the cultural and spiritual significance of the birth of a baby saviour in a bed of hay some 2,000 years ago, I hope that I will at least be able to occasionally tell a good story with an underlying message.
What you will find here is the love child of conscious progressive thought suited to a rapidly changing world and the cheeky humour which deep down I know is required in order to soften the blow of my sometimes sobering messages. There will also be the occasional bout of pure silliness and a good story, just for the hell of it.
Spoken word, poetry, parables, passion, musings and hilarity will follow.
It is time.