Homer was a spoken word poet
Spoken word poetry is not just art, but an effective method of consciousness raising and education. Last week I had the opportunity to participate in a spoken word workshop facilitated by Logan Phillips and hosted by the Faculty of Health Science at Simon Fraser University.
Logan Phillips is a bilingual (Spanish/English) poet, performer and DJ. He is a former professor of Latin American literature, culture, and translation at Universidad Internacional in Cuernavaca, Morelos. Although no longer at the university Logan continues to educate but today he teaches through his art. Logan is the current Director of the Tucson Youth Poetry Slam and founder of Artspeak LLC, an arts and education consultancy company.
As some of us know and many of us are learning, entertainment education is an effective medium for engaging audiences of all ages. Using arts based methods allows educators to develop rapport and engage communities who are not always available through conventional print media. Entertainment education is particularly affective when communicating with audiences across culture, language, age, socio-demographic status, and education levels.
Spoken word poetry is one such medium. Poetry as an oral art form is not new and can be traced to Homer and his “Odyssey.” Poetry performance evolved from necessity, literacy and access to print was limited therefore recitation and performance was often the only method poets had to share their works. Spoken work poetry has evolved as a medium for sharing social, political, and religious messages in North American through blues music, “beat poetry in the 1950’s, hip-hop and dub music in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and rap in the ‘80s. Modern spoken word is more rhythmic and animated than previous iterations of poetry but remains independent of paper and pen, as performance is still the primary mode of delivery. Spoken word uses words and performance to make commentary about the world around us and more recently has become an important tool for community development and education.
Having the opportunity to participate in the workshop at SFU was equally engaging and educational. I walked in not knowing what to expect, a little tripidacious, as I was certain I would be expected to not only write a poem but perform one – both being equally terrifying. I had not taken an English course since high school and, as I am frequently heard saying, “am a better editor than writer”, that blank page can be so intimidating. Logan started the workshop by performing for us. The beauty of it was its subtlety, I wasn’t even aware he was performing until well into the piece. The imagery was as powerful as the message about the violence and racial division in his home town of Tucson. He is poet after all, easy for him, that’s what he does.
The next thing Logan did was to take us through the steps of writing a poem by asking us a serious of questions culminating into the statement, “I am not who you think I am, I am…” From that statement we had 2 minutes to write with only one rule, no editing just writing, editing’s for later. Heads down we were off and low and behold a poem was on the paper without even thinking. Not sure how that happened. Another exercise included closing our eyes and Logan walking us through a setting from our past asking us to be aware of our senses – what do we see, what do we hear, what do we feel etc. Write down the answers now, no editing, another poem is written.
The final step – the performance. Turn to your neighbor share your poem. “It’s too personal I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t get to edit…” Doesn’t matter, take a deep breath, hold your head up and read…
What an amazing opportunity to learn how to apply a new, ancient, engaging, participatory, education tool.
To learn more about Logan and to see video of his performances check out his website:
Other projects using spoken word to educate:
Heartbeat Campaign – promoting awareness of heart disease by the Canadian Tamil Youth Alliance
Writing Wrongs – teach youth about restorative justice
To this Day Project – an anti bullying campaign spearheaded by Shane Koyczan
Urban Word – literary arts education and youth development programs