June 15, 2011

Spoken Word Poetry

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:44 pm by a care in the world

One of my favorite cultural experiences in New York City has been spoken word poetry. I was introduced to this art form when studying hip hop theater in college, but I first saw it performed here, at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Often performed by poets of color, spoken word or “slam” poetry brings to light the gritty realities that black and brown people live with every day. Dangerous neighborhoods, crime, drugs, injustice, police brutality, racism, and domestic violence are just a few of the issues that these poets present in stark, beautiful language. Powerful imagery pulls you into the poet’s world and forces you to listen to what they have to say, and I’m blown away by the courage they have in saying it. Here are some of my favorites:

And to finish with something a little lighter:

Tonight I participated in a workshop on bringing spoken word poetry into the classroom, as a way to build and encourage student voices, to value student background and cultures, and to provide a safe space for student stories. I was asked to write a poem about my neighborhood. It’s nothing special, but I thought I would share.

My neighborhood was safe.
I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it now.
Full of cliched memories– fireflies and kickball and climbing trees.
Life was easy. I didn’t know what the world was like.
My father taught me Shakespeare and Renaissance Art.
My mother taught me the tricks of advertising so I would never be fooled by commercials promising the next best thing.
I was taught to be discerning in my tastes, to live a life of the mind… but not so much a life of the world.

My neighborhood was safe.
I played with my friends in the street and no one ever got hurt.
I went to school with people like me to learn from people like me
Reading writers like me who wrote about people like me.
I thought I knew a lot.
I was never questioned or threatened or judged; not really.
My neighborhood was safe.
I’m almost embarrassed to talk about it now.

I spend my time now with kids whose neighborhoods are not safe,
And I don’t know how to relate;
What to say.
What I could possibly say that they’d want or need to hear?
I was a child when I was young, and these are not children. They have seen too much.
My neighborhood was safe.

**As requested, here are the words to the poem “Foster Bears” above. I’m sorry the video quality is so poor, but the poem itself is beautiful.