Slam Poetry Workshop and Ideas about Art

Not the kind of place you’d expect to attend a Slam Poetry workshop – a little historic Baptist church with vintage neon sign. But the Missouri Literary Festival hosted many events over three days, in a variety of places, and this little church on the edge of campus was saved by Drury University and renamed the Diversity Center.

Drury-diversity-centerI went to the workshop, not knowing anything about it. I was intrigued by the title and thought it might be fun to videotape. I’ve been spending a lot of my creative time this month working with video. I’m better at editing than shooting, so I need the practice. Russ is the great photographer and techie in the family.

In the 90’s we did a lot of video work – documentary type stuff — and am now finding how much fun it is to upload and share videos via our new YouTube channel as compared to having to dupe tapes, design packaging, and figure out how to distribute them. I love video, it’s total immersion into a world of thousands of trillions of single photographic moments smashed together and find myself getting lost in it. But back to poetry.

The workshop was great, amazing — maybe partly because of the environment of the church and the beautiful light that filtered that afternoon through the large stained glass windows. But most definitely because of Joaquín Zihuatanejo. I found out later that he’s really famous – 2008 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, 2009 World Cup of Poetry Slam Champion.

And so kind and generous – with his talent, his spirit, his desire to teach and to share ideas. I made three short videos from the one-hour workshop. This overview of Slam Poetry has pretty much what I think are some universal truths for all art.

The keynote speaker for the MO Literary Festival was Billy Collins, two-time Poet Laureate for the United States. I was pretty excited about hearing him. I thought I was a fan, but he pretty much lost me when he said that all poetry is about death and that someone should tell English majors that when they are starting out.

I was an English major — no one ever told me that, and I wouldn’t have believed them if they did. I’ve always thought that poetry and art were about life, so I’m happy to post this other video of Joaquín Zihuatanejo. He pretty much sums it up in a short minute.

Circular Writing is like Circular Knitting

circular_knittingI used to think that writing was a linear thing, and it can be if you’re telling a story. Then blogs came along, and it seemed to make sense to write and post things in order, because in the beginning they were kind of just an online diary of events or ideas.

Now there’s the next generation of blogs. What I’m seeing now and starting to write for are blogs that follow a don’t follow a linear time-line — blogs with front pages that link to all different places in the life of the entire blog.

There are ways to do this in WordPress — for example using sticky posts to make a certain post stay on the top of your post order or featured article categories that do something similar — so I’m assuming this is also possible in Blogger and Typepad.

So now I’m learning to write circular, because  you can’t assume that someone will start at the beginning or end, or maybe you don’t even want them to. If you’re going to use a non-linear structure, you’re got to think about things from the reader’s perspective and try to give them some way-finding clues. What I call circular writing is not like circular thinking, a term many people use to describe a kind of obsessive pattern of going around and around in circles and never being able to break out of a vicious cycle.

Yesterday I realized that by “circular writing” I meant something more like knitting on a pair of circular needles in which you start with one loop of yarn and knit around and around making a tubular shape. When you knit in a circle, you are building on the past. Although you may revisit a place, it’s not repetitious, because you’re actually using it as a foundation and adding to it.

Circular writing also seems to me like making art. Over the years, I’ve found myself coming back to a theme or idea, sometimes not even aware that I am revisiting that idea until I’ve made something new and moved on. Only later do I realize the connection to the past.

Last week Karen left a comment on my “On the Road to a Improved Blog” that she wanted to start a one. I hope she does! I often hear or read about people who are are thinking about starting one, but something is holding them back. Just remember that starting a blog is like making that single little loop. Go ahead and get it started now so you can start building on it. It doesn’t have to be important or fancy, just get going now! And I hope that the idea that you don’t have to do things in a set order may be as liberating to you as it is to me.

If you’re still wondering why you should write a blog, here’s a great video from Tom Peters and Seth Godin about how blogging changed their lives, and why it’s important to do. Everything they say has certainly been true for me.