Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Poem of the Month: "Alien Suite" by Safia Elhillo (Plus a #BeHeard19 Announcement!)



"Where I'm from is where I'm from and not where I was put."

I'm highlighting some older poems that are personal favorites of mine (although this particular entry was a suggestion from poet Fatima Camara-- thanks!); it's a way to shout out some good work, and also to analyze some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers. Find the full list here.

We could talk about how this poem is actually a series of poems, performed back-to-back without breaks. But whether we hear this as a series, or as one poem that features multiple movements, I think the more important thing is the overall effect.

As a poet, you can show up and just read your ten best poems, sure; or you can be intentional with how you put those poems into conversation with one another. You can structure how you want your 15 minutes (or 5, or 30, or whatever) to move, to flow, to breathe. You can juxtapose ideas and techniques so that the set as a whole becomes even more powerful than the sum of its parts. This process is an integral part of writing a book, but can definitely apply to live performance too.

It's maybe worth pausing for a second to ask whether hearing an entire set, with none of the witty banter or joking between the poems that are so common in spoken word spaces, is jarring. A followup could be whether that "jarring" is constructive or distracting. I think a lot of us would probably agree that with this poem, it's constructive-- it gives the poem(s) a tension and energy that undergirds the emotions and ideas being grappled with.

In general, and at the risk of saying something super obvious, I think banter-between-poems is good when it's good and bad when it's bad. Sometimes, pausing between poems to talk can frame or contextualize poems in a powerful way. Sometimes it can cultivate intimacy with the audience. Sometimes it can give the audience a moment to breathe, and give a set a kind of rhythm that draws focus to the poems. Other times, of course, it can be super annoying.

I think this video shows the power of letting the poetry speak for itself, of breaking outside the mold of what a spoken word set is supposed to look/sound like, and of subverting the audience's expectations. There are a million other things to explore regarding the fantastic line-by-line writing on display here, not to mention the actual substance/ideas the poem(s) explores--  but I'll leave it there for now. Feel free to add more thoughts in the comments.

More:
  • Find more from Safia Elhillo (including booking info, social media links, and more) here.
  • My full list of poem commentary/essays here.

AN ADDITIONAL NOTE: Sign Up For #BeHeard19 Here:
That's the last poem-of-the-month for 2018. In January, the 2019 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam Series kicks off. If you're a MN poet between 13 and 19, and want a space to share your work and build community with other youth poets, check it out. You can sign up here if you want to slam.

And whether or not you slam, or are eligible to slam, these are always really fantastic shows. Mark your calendars to check out a bout or two (or all of them!) and support young people speaking for themselves.

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