Experience of the day: Slam Poetry Workshop

Yesterday I attended one of the Slam Poetry workshops, at Litteraturhuset, led by the artist and curator Michael W. Opara, also known as Doriansgrave. 

As usual, I do not have the intention of saying what the workshop was, but simply how I experienced it. If you want to know more about it, you can check this out.

For me, it was a reminder that although it is hard, it is also important to challenge my writing process. 

I write almost every day. It has been like that for the last 23 years. By now my writing process has its rituals and a kind of chaotic structure. I read philosophy, poetry, biographies, novels, plays, and books that I do not know how to label… I read and I write. What I am reading tends to influence somehow the content of what I have to say in my own writing. Writing for me is also a conversation, with what I read, see, and listen to. Writing is also a huge part of my thinking process. There are times that I need to write in order to be able to think. 

I am the type of person that carries a notebook everywhere she goes. I might be in the middle of a concert, dancing, and then I feel the urge of stopping and writing for five minutes. My writing process is full of fragments. Vomited fragments. It almost embodies the midlife crisis that I’ve been going through for a while. It is messy, uncertain, sometimes too hot, and other times too cold. Very often too much. Filled with half concepts such as the unknown, impossible, almost, not here yet, por vir, feminism.  Most of the time, I feel comfortable telling and writing stories. And I’ve been trying to write accessible philosophy. 

I also do my little writing and dancing practice, through which I give birth to what I call ‘almost poems’. ‘Almost’ both because I do not intend to write poetry, nor I am able to do so right now. Right now I live the urgency of writing about what dances in me somehow. My writing is raw, fast, smelly, noisy. It is not polished. I am afraid there is no way of accessing elevated language without doing the work of polishing a text. When you write in the little pauses of the life of the mother, in the little pockets of time that you manage to squeeze in between the modern woman’s obligation to multitask, then there is very little time, and brainpower to polish. But if I am honest that is not all. 

I am also not sure if poetry is the most suited form to host what I have to say. (This struggle might be in part related to the fact that I am not sure for whom I write. It might well be that I write just for myself. As it has been for many others, it might be that for me as well, writing is a way of staying alive, a therapeutic everyday ritual perhaps.). Another piece of this puzzle, for which I do not have an answer, is the old question of for whom poetry is accessible. This is a question that I did not receive well for a very long while. First I assumed that just by asking this question we would be assuming that only certain people could “understand” poetry. In high school, the beauty of literature including poetry was a bit destroyed for me. Exactly because of the imposition that we should read and “understand” what was written. Of course, we were told that there was one right way to understand it. 

I today think that it is wrong to claim that poetry should be “understood”. I think it is something to be experienced, and not necessarily “understood”. Anyone can experience poetry? I think so if they are given the time to do so, and/or if they find ways to relate their own bits and obsessions to a poem. However, there is another aspect of this discussion that I ignored for too long. In the history of what we got used to calling poetry, despite all its changes, turns, and reinventions, there is still the mark of a certain expectation that “true” poetry, “pure” poetry will be written in an elevated type of language. If I am not mistaken it was Kierkegaard who once said that the “elevated” language of poetry although amazes and hosts a few, most likely separates itself from many, that feel like they can not access it, can not be hosted by it. I grew up in a small city, where storytelling was part of everyday life, but not so much poetry. I remember being fascinated by the stories that I would listen to. I wanted to be able to do the same. Get a popular guitar, play a song and take some people back in time with me, to imagine the lives of others. But it was always so easy for me to get lost. To say things in a way with too many voltas, too many holes. Perhaps a desire to say things in an accessible way got glued to my bones during my formative years. I do not have the training nor the natural gift to use language in this “elevated” poetic way. Neither I can necessarily be straightforward if the subject I am addressing goes beyond my belly button. Not so easy to find a label for what I write… 

Moreover, I do not buy into the story that for something to be beautiful and poetic it needs to be communicated in this sophisticated, elevated language. Do not get me wrong, there are days in which I do enjoy reading the so-called “pure” “true” poetry. My issue is whether we should continue labeling and separating different types of writing. 

After attending the slam poetry workshop, I went home dreaming about a workshop in which people engaged with quite different types of writing would share their processes. An encounter that would last for a week perhaps, in which we would open our creative boxes, and let our rituals, manias, and structures (or lack of them) be contaminated by one another. I could perhaps invite the architect and artist that writes moved by her most personal fascinations and agenda. The poet that writes in Nynorsk and is not afraid of the editing process, ends up giving life to beautiful sophisticated poems. The artist that writes by establishing a conversation with technology. The one that is always collecting things and letting the memories of his collections become something written, almost marked by his very special sense of humor... Not necessarily this encounter I am dreaming of would be easy. But I am inclined to believe that it would be able to shake us a bit, in a good way.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I did not find the slam poetry workshop easy. Although I believe that I share with Michael the same “ideological” ground, one could say. (And I am aware that I might be wrong here. So often we think we know what an other think, we believe that we listened to what he said, just to figure out that in the end we just heard what was already stuck in our own ears. An echo of ourselves). I know I am taking a risk here, by assuming that I heard what Michael said. My impression, after attending the workshop yesterday, is that some of our obsessions intersect. For both of us, it seems to be important that the one writing engages with themes that are urgent to her. He uses the expression “speak your truth”. I am not sure if I would call it “your truth”, but I guess we both believe that what gives power to a piece of writing is very often a kind of “honesty”. It is the courage to touch on a subject that is relevant to your own existence. We both seem to not have much patience for the type of art that is the shallow result of an attempt to be cool. Moreover, we both seem to agree that saying your poem, slam poem, or almost poem, without reading it, and with the capacity to look the audience in the eyes, gives it a body that takes up more space in the room. It makes it easier for others to experience it. The direct delivery, without the mediation of paper, makes it possible for the words to be tested and tasted differently. 

The mis-encounter between Michael and I appears when he invites in the art of rhyming. He is very straightforward, he is sharing something he knows. Something he has been practicing and trying out for more than a decade. He knows how to rhyme and how to give rhythm to words. I don’t. And that is ok. Yesterday I tried to rhyme though. For the first time in the last twenty years, perhaps. It ended up being a disaster, a failure. But one of these failures that shows you something. It made visible to be some of the current limitations of my writing and it invited me to play, to challenge it once in a while. In short, I could say that the workshop yesterday invited me to dare to write outside my box once in a while, and for that I am grateful.


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