Accidental Spoken Word

spoken-wordWhen I was a freshman, I decided to try out the creative writing clubs in an attempt to get involved more at my school and with my art. I ended up at a spoken word club meeting in September, with absolutely no idea about what spoken word might be, other than it’s name. I could predict that this would be outloud writing, people standing before a classroom to deliver their work. I couldn’t predict the way words, in the mouths of experienced juniors and seniors, spun this dance of language, or seemed to physicalize in the air, emotions transferred straight to me. In a single hour-and-half after school meeting, I became dedicated to a new art form.

Spoken word is unique in the fact that it can, so immediately, reach an audience. There is something in a performer speaking their own words, a person shivering before you and saying this is my truth, that makes people connect deeply to the words of spoken word artists. This immediacy is also deceptively simple, as those audiences, including myself, realize when we turn to making our own spoken word. A terrific performer can’t make up for shoddy words, and incredible language can’t provide for a scared or over ambitious performer. The form is a unique and delicate balance between the two forces. Spoken word exists where words cannot just sit on a page. Spoken word is necessary for when the truth on the page is so internalized in a person they individually have to speak it. Often, in the transition, the ability to be so true through this medium of words, a spoken word piece flourishes with wordplay, and becomes a celebration of language itself. It blends with music, runs off with pun and double meaning. A spoken word artist has to find some way to realize all of the potential of the genre, and still come on stage and deliver what is most true to themselves. They have to use this truth to drive choices about what song, or crazy movement is used. Spoken word is a vibrant tradition, an intellectual tradition, but still a tradition of gut feelings. It is messy. It is invaluable.

Recently, I had to struggle with risk taking in the form for a piece I performed at Douglas Anderson’s Coffee House performance. The piece centered around my personal transitions while working on trail crew in the New Hampshire woods this summer. I wanted to convey the feeling of swinging a double jack, this eight-pound metal head on a wood handle, and using it crushing rocks. The piece really centered around this return to loving the physical body. The motion, the way it forces you to appreciate every single muscle, felt too important to leave out. So I spoke, and swung a pretend double jack. I had to take this risk of looking like a teenager with an air guitar, but I did it. Because, the emotions, and currents of ideas in the piece, called for something big. In the end, I think the motion worked. It showed the movement of manual labor. I reconnected me, every time, with those summer days, which helped me bring the piece to the audience.

Spoken word is my release, because it asks the question: What are you most angry/joyful/sad/excited/all around passionate about? Write, speak, and move, from there.

Ana Shaw, Junior Editor-in-Chief


Jamaal May, Poet & Realist

Jamaal May Picture - McKennaIn poetry class my Junior year, we recited poems we found intriguing or moving in order to practice our oral interpretation skills and bring us closer to the work of other poets. Before I knew who Jamaal May was or heard he would be attending Douglas Anderson’s Writer’s Festival, I recited his piece “There are Birds Here,” a piece of his which is dedicated to Detroit. Previously, I read it as a jab to critics who tried to put symbolism and emphasis into every poem they read, but today, understanding who he is as a writer, I see it as him asking people not to sugarcoat what is real and true.

This piece connects to his other work, where he writes to show what he sees as true and does not attempt to hide it under any circumstance. In every piece he builds up cohesive images and ideas until the final sentence where he adds something impactful, something you didn’t expect when reading about a boy whacking fireflies with a stick. In poems like “Hum for the Hammer,” there is a more industrial focus that involves more tactile imagery like in the line, “May sandpaper be the rough hand that rubs you smooth,” and still captures this human feeling as naturally as his childhood and community-centered poems.

Upon reading more of Jamaal May’s work, I’ve also come to admire how he can bend a narrative into poetic format. As a writer who leans more towards the fiction genre, creating poems focused on single emotions or moments without full flourishing sentences and thoughts is extremely challenging. Yet May manages to pull off this poetic vibe even when there are long sentences, like in his piece “On Metal,” published through Gulf Coast Journal. Despite there being a whole narrative focus, there are still poetic elements, abstract ideas, a meaning that could only be provided through the poetic format he gives it.

Balancing between gritty textures and light or sometimes religious imagery, Jamaal creates statement pieces about the state of the world he grew up in and the one he lives in now, including both man, machine, and sometimes even God. His narrative pieces remind us as both writers and readers that there are no limitations in poetry and the poets that show us that are the ones that we should look forward to seeing again and again.

-McKenna Flanagan, Senior Art Editor