Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Advice and Resources for Spoken-Word Artists

Had a great workshop at the Canvas a few weeks ago talking about taking your spoken-word and slam poetry to the next level.  Lots of engaging conversations, debates and more.  But as many people couldn't make it to that workshop, I wanted to share a few resources here for anyone who might be interested:

First, here's an essay I wrote about what standards I use when judging spoken-word.  I'm not saying that these are absolutely right (a couple of them, in fact, are highly arguable) but they're what's important to me as a listener.

Second, here's a collection of spoken-word videos that are worth watching at least once.  Not necessarily ALL my favorite poems (couldn't find good video links to some others), but a ton of really engaging, thought-provoking work.  And NONE of them are from Def Poetry Jam!

Finally, be sure to check out this page listing local open mics, slams and readings.  It doesn't have everything, and things change quickly, but it's the perfect place to start your journey.

Beyond that, I'd just add a couple of things:

1. Read lots of poetry.  You can't just watch YouTube videos.  On top of that, read lots of fiction and graphic fiction, watch movies, listen to new music and just devour art wherever you can find it.  If you're a slam poet, and all of your influences are other slam poets, that's probably not healthy.  Art is art, whether low or high, whether written or performed, whatever; find influences everywhere.

2. Find a group of people who will give you honest, constructive, helpful feedback.  They can be friends, other poets, an online community or whatever.  If you're a teen in the Twin Cities, be sure to check out the writing circle at the Canvas every Wednesday from 4:30-6 that I facilitate.  Desdamona also runs a writing circle at Intermedia Arts.  Or start your own writing/feedback circle.

3. Figure out why you write.  If it's for your own enjoyment or therapy, great.  But if you really want to build a career out of writing and performing, there are certain steps you have to be intentional about.  Have short, medium and long-term goals and be disciplined about them.  Talk to other artists who are where you want to be.  If you can find someone to be your "mentor," that can be a huge step.

4. This is probably the most important point, to me, and a mantra that I live by, as both a poet and a rapper: it is incredibly easy to be a good writer, good poet or good performer.  It is incredibly difficult to make art that is challenging, memorable and transformative.  Your goal is not to "write well" or wholly embody some formula or mold; it is to blow people's minds.  It is to make people see the world in a fundamentally different way than they did before.  It is to create art that can have a meaningful ripple effect over communities, over time and beyond your own death.  That certainly doesn't mean that every single poem you write has to change the world.  But when you're carving out a career for yourself, these points are important to keep in mind.

Feel free to leave any other ideas or tips or whatever in the comments!

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