This post was written by Digital Media Mentor Elena Perez, who attended our Digital Media Mentoring Program Audio Slam Poetry Dorkshop.
There is a beautiful risk in poetry. To write it, you have to be willing to go out on a limb; it’s no small task to arrange words to capture and convey a moment or feeling as only you experienced it. And to speak the poem aloud in front of an audience adds a whole other dimension of OMG. Seriously, it’s terrifying.
And that’s what I heard in the early minutes one Saturday afternoon — whispers of anxiety mixing in with the usual pre-event excitement.
Because most people don’t do this — most people don’t volunteer to stand up in front of a room and bare their sadness, delight, anger, regret, amusement, mortification, ambition, shock, pain and/or love in front of others. But those who do become a little stronger in the process. And that’s why I was so excited for the Girls Write Now Slam Poetry Dorkshop.
It’s my first year as a Girls Write Now mentor, but I’ve already grown to eagerly anticipate the monthly gatherings of mentors and mentees. The Girls Write Now and New School teams always bring it — and that means a host of activities to challenge our creative and collaborative muscles.
We kicked off this particular dorkshop (their affectionate term for “digital workshop”) by putting pen to paper to describe “a woman” in one sentence. Then we read each of our words aloud to create one collective poem. There were themes that emerged, like strength, caring, struggle and love, but they were all presented in such individual voices. It was, in a word, kaleidoscopic.
The Girls Write Now team also brought in two amazing performances poets. We got to experience Oakland native Simone Bridges as she took the Love Song to task in her lively, rhythmic, poignant and sometimes amusing poem that began “Do you all know what a love song is?” Her emcee style was a reminder of the blurry line between poetry and hip hop lyrics.
Peggy Robles-Alvarado, a Puerto Rican and Dominican educator, brought her own life to, well, life before us with personal poems like “To All The Boys In College Who Never Wanted to Date Me After Finding Out I Was a Single Mother”. Both poets showed what it was like to bare a little (or a lot) of your soul and live to tell the tale. They also came with memorable advice. “Fear is a dream killer,” said Robles-Alvarado. “Doubt is a dream killer. It does not live here.”
It wouldn’t have been a Girls Write Now dorkshop if we didn’t have the opportunity to try our hand at creation, and so our next task was, naturally, to write our own poems. We spent some time ‘pre-writing’ against some very helpful prompts, like “I never told you…” and “I remember…” and then were challenged to turn that into a poem. But that was just the beginning of the fun. Remember, this was a Slam Poetry session, not a written poetry session.
Based on the chatter earlier, I thought there might be more collective anxiety over the next step, which was reading the poems aloud in small groups. But the mentors and especially the mentees are always game – even if it means stepping out of their comfort zone.
Our facilitators helped us warm up, walking us through some exercises for better diction (“If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…”), pitch and body language. We then recorded our performances for the online portfolios (this is the digital program after all) and that added a whole other layer of permanence and authenticity to the works we created. (Oh, the magic of digital!)
Last but not least, we were invited to read our poems aloud. And who volunteered first? A mentee! That’s just another indication how badass these girls are.
It’s more than just a little nerve-wracking to read a poem you just wrote within the past few hours aloud. (I know because I volunteered to read, too.) But the truth is, the Girls Write Now dorkshops create that kind of safe space that makes producing and sharing a natural process. Seriously, I wish I had the opportunity to participate when I was in high school, but I’m thrilled to be a part of it as a mentor today.
About Elena Perez
Elena Perez is a first-year Girls Write Now mentor, novelist and marketing consultant. Her debut young adult novel, The Art of Disappearing, was published by Alloy Entertainment last year. She is currently at work on her next novel but can be easily distracted at @elenabooks or @elenaperez.
If you’d like to contribute to Girls Write Now, visit Elena’s First Giving page.