For this week of National Poetry Month, we are featuring spoken word poetry and poets. Today, we wanted to share some spoken word projects you might be interested in.
Button Poetry was founded in 2011, launching the first Button website and blog soon after. They have being promoting and producing spoken word poetry, creating high quality videos and books and recordings, ever since.
All Def Poetry is a YouTube channel presented by Russell Simmons that shares weekly performances by emerging and established spoken word artists. “Fresh, riveting, and featuring some of the best voices in the genre.”
Project VOICE is “a team of highly accomplished writers, performers, and educators,” using spoken word poetry to “entertain, educate, and inspire” They say on their website that, “Through award-winning performances and innovative workshops, Project VOICE is dedicated to promoting empowerment, improving literacy, and encouraging empathy and creative collaboration in classrooms and communities around the world.” In related news, Speakeasynyc is “is the leading youtube channel for great spoken word poets from around the US,” including the poets involved with Project VOICE.
Poetry Slam, Inc. is “a non-profit organization that organizes the National Poetry Slam, the Individual World Poetry Slam, and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. PSi is also charged with overseeing the international coalition of poetry slams.” Their YouTube channel has a great collection of videos from these events and more.
Stayed tuned: Tomorrow we’ll be sharing some of our favorite spoken word poems. For today, have fun diving into these great projects and their collections.
Andrea Gibson is an award-winning poet and activist born in Calais, Maine. Gibson has lived in Boulder, Colorado since 1999. Gibson also goes by Andrew and uses gender-neutral pronouns. Their website bio says,
Andrea Gibson is not gentle with their truths. It is this raw fearlessness that has led them to the forefront of the spoken word movement…Gibson has headlined prestigious performance venues coast to coast with powerful readings on war, class, gender, bullying, white privilege, sexuality, love, and spirituality.
Now, on their fifth full-length album FLOWER BOY and their second book THE MADNESS VASE, Gibson’s poems continue to be a rally cry for action and a welcome mat at the door of the heart’s most compassionate room.
A four-time Denver Grand Slam Champion, Gibson finished fourth at the 2004 National Poetry Slam, and third at both the 2006 and 2007 Individual World Poetry Slam. In 2008, Gibson became the first poet ever to win the Women of the World Poetry Slam.
When asked in a 2015 interview “Which poets and/or artists have influenced your work?”, Gibson said,
Oh, so many. Spoken word artists who have influenced me a great deal are Sonya Renee, Rachel McKibbens, Derrick Brown, Anis Mojgani, Patricia Smith…that list is so long I could keep writing names for the next hour. The first poet whose work I truly fell in love with was Mary Oliver, and her books are still the place I find the most comfort in.
Video: Andrea Gibson performing “Angels of the Get Through,” featuring musical accompaniment by Kaylen Krebsbach
Video: Andrea Gibson performing “A Letter to My Dog, Exploring the Human Condition,” featuring accompaniment by her dog, Squash
Naomi Shihab Nyeis the author of numerous books of poems, as well as the author of several books of poetry and fiction for children. Born to a Palestinian father and an American mother, she spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas. Her experience of difference has influenced much of her work, and she’s called herself a “wandering poet.”
Her poetry is known for looking at the ordinary, deeply and with fresh eyes. Poet William Stafford said of Shihab Nye, “her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life.”
Naomi Shihab Nye told Contemporary Authors: “I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.”
Burning the Old Year
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
~“Burning the Old Year” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems
Video: Naomi Shihab Nye reads and talks about her poem “Kindness”
Also, you might want to list to this really great interview with Naomi Shihab Nye on On Being, Your Life Is a Poem.
Canadian author Margaret Atwood in Toronto, 2012. (Image credit: Reuters/Mark Blinch)
Margaret Atwood is probably best known for her novel, A Handmaid’s Tale, often referred to as a work of “speculative fiction.” However, what many people may not know about her is she’s also an accomplished poet, having published 15 collections of poetry. Margaret Atwood is a poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist, and the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. She’s internationally acclaimed and awarded, with her work being translated into French, German, Italian, Urdu, Estonian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, Catalan, Turkish, Russian, Finnish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Portuguese, Greek, Polish, Japanese, Icelandic, Spanish, Hebrew, and several other languages. All of the fiction is available in paperback in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.
The Woman Who Could Not Live With Her Faulty Heart Margaret Atwood
I do not mean the symbol
of love, a candy shape
to decorate cakes with,
the heart that is supposed
to belong or break;
I mean this lump of muscle
that contracts like a flayed biceps,
purple-blue, with its skin of suet,
its skin of gristle, this isolate,
this caved hermit, unshelled
turtle, this one lungful of blood,
no happy plateful.
All hearts float in their own
deep oceans of no light,
wetblack and glimmering,
their four mouths gulping like fish.
Hearts are said to pound:
this is to be expected, the heart’s
regular struggle against being drowned.
But most hearts say, I want, I want,
I want, I want. My heart
is more duplicitous,
though to twin as I once thought.
It says, I want, I don’t want, I
want, and then a pause.
It forces me to listen,
and at night it is the infra-red
third eye that remains open
while the other two are sleeping
but refuses to say what it has seen.
It is a constant pestering
in my ears, a caught moth, limping drum,
a child’s fist beating
itself against the bedsprings:
I want, I don’t want.
How can one live with such a heart?
Long ago I gave up singing
to it, it will never be satisfied or lulled.
One night I will say to it:
Heart, be still,
and it will.
~From Selected Poems II (1976-1986) by Margaret Atwood, 1987.
Luci Tapahonso is a Navajo poet and a lecturer in Native American Studies. Born in 1953, she was raised on her family farm on the Navajo reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico with her eleven siblings. English was not her first language, but rather something she learned second to her native Navajo language, Dine. She learned English at home before starting school, which she attended in the area, graduating from high school in 1971.
Tapahonso was a a journalist and investigative reporter before beginning her studies at the University of New Mexico in 1976. She intended to study journalism there, but met faculty member, novelist and poet Leslie Marmon Silko, who convinced her to switch her major to creative writing. She went on to earn her MA in creative writing, and then to teach.
Silko helped Tapahonso publish her first story, “The Snake Man”, in 1978. Her first collection of poetry, put together when she was an undergraduate, was published in 1981. Several more collections followed, as well as individual poems published in various journals. Her 1993 collection Saánii Dahataal (the women are singing), written in Navajo and English, was the first collection to bring her acclaim and recognition, which continued with her 1997 blue horses rush in. Her book of poetry A Radiant Curve was awarded the Arizona Book Award for Poetry in 2009.
In 2013, Tapahonso was named the inaugural poet laureate of the Navajo Nation. Announcing the appointment at a press conference, Elmer Guy, president of Navajo Technical College, said that the goal of designating a chief poet is “to encourage other Navajo poets, writers, film makers and artists to realize how important their work is to the continuance and growth of Navajo contemporary culture. Luci represents the best of what it is to be Diné, honoring our traditions, while at the same time forming a contemporary voice that speaks beautifully to all people.”
Tapahonso continues to teach; has served on various boards, committees, and commissions; and is a sought after speaker. She received the 2006 Lifetime Achievement award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas and a Spirit of the Eagle Leadership Award for her key role in establishing the Indigenous Studies Graduate Studies Program at the University of Kansas. The Native Writers Circle of the Americas named Tapahonso the 1999 Storyteller of the Year. She has also received a Kansas Governor’s Art Award, and Distinguished Woman awards from the National Association of Women in Education and the Girl Scout Council of America.
Suffragists Protest Woodrow Wilson’s Opposition to Woman Suffrage, October 1916
Earlier this month, we featured Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Today we are featuring a few other early women involved in similar issues: Lucretia Mott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone.
Lucretia Mott was an American Quaker, abolitionist, a women’s rights activist, and a social reformer. Her speaking abilities made her an important figure in these movements. Mott helped form the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833. When slavery was outlawed in 1865, she advocated giving Black Americans the right to vote. She was was among the founders of the American women’s rights movement, and remained a central figure in both the abolition and suffrage movements until her death in 1880. Mott’s feminist philosophy was outlined in her Discourse on Women, in which she argued for equal economic opportunity and voting rights. After helping to establish Swarthmore College in 1864, she served as head of the American Equal Rights Association.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe was an American abolitionist and author. She published over 30 books, but is best known for her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She wrote children’s text books, advice books on homemaking and childrearing, biographies and religious studies. Stowe began her formal education at Sarah Pierce’s academy, one of the earliest to encourage girls to study academic subjects and not simply ornamental arts. As a student there, Stowe followed the traditional course of classical learning usually reserved for young men. She eventually became a teacher, until her success with Uncle Tom’s Cabin allowed her to write full time. The book was a best seller in the United States, Britian, Europe, Asia, and translated into over 60 languages. Stowe’s writing career spanned 51 years.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an American suffragist, social activist, abolitionist, feminist, writer, editor, and leading figure of the early women’s rights movement. She helped organize the world’s first women’s rights convention in 1848, and formed the National Women’s Loyal League with Susan B. Anthony in 1863. Seven years later, they established the National Woman Suffrage Association. Stanton wrote some of the most influential books, documents, and speeches of the women’s rights movement. In support of her argument that the Bible and organized religion played in denying women their full rights, with her daughter she published a critique, The Woman’s Bible, which was published in two volumes. She also wrote her autobiography, Eighty Years and More, and many other articles and pamphlets about female suffrage and women’s rights.
Lucy Stone was a prominent American orator, abolitionist, and suffragist, and a vocal advocate and organizer promoting rights for women. She supported the Women’s National Loyal League, and in 1866 helped found the American Equal Rights Association. She also organized and was elected president of the State Woman’s Suffrage Association of New Jersey, and spent her life serving the cause. Stone wrote extensively about a wide range of women’s rights, publishing and distributing speeches by herself and others. She was the first woman from Massachusetts to earn a bachelor’s degree, paying her own way through school and graduating in 1847 with honors. She had a career as a public speaker, speaking out about abolition and women’s rights, at a time when women were discouraged and even actively prevented from public speaking. While Stone did live to see the end of slavery, she died 30 years before women were finally permitted to vote.
Disclaimer: I’m completely obsessed with Roxane Gay right now. I finally started Bad Feminist recently, which I’d been wanting to read ever since that time a few years ago at a department picnic when I asked Antero Garcia (who at the time was a CSU English department faculty member) about his t-shirt, which said “Bad Feminist.” I didn’t get what I thought was the joke of his shirt, and he explained to me it was a book. I went home and googled Roxane Gay, but it would be two more years before I’d read any of her books.
I’m almost done with Bad Feminist. It rests on my kitchen table, and anytime I sit down there, I read another essay or two. I know I’m late to the party, but this book is brilliant in the way that it merges academic critique, pop culture commentary, and personal experience. The only “failure” of the book is that I can’t sit down with Gay at my kitchen table after I read any of it to talk with her further. To say it is “thought provoking” doesn’t even begin to cover it. The book was a New York Times best-seller, and a Time magazine reviewer called it “a manual on how to be human.”
I just finished Difficult Women and An Untamed State, and am almost done with Ayiti. They are on my Kindle, which I use mostly to read in bed at night after my husband and dogs are asleep. Over the past month, I’ve spent many a night falling asleep in its glow because I try so hard to stay awake, want so badly to keep reading even as my body shuts down. Difficult Women in particular had a haunting effect on me. Days after reading a particular story, I’d still be thinking about it. There were a few of the stories that held me in such a fugue that when I got to the end, I momentarily couldn’t remember what I was reading or who had written it — because I’d been so thoroughly IN it, lost in the story completely.
Harper Collins says of her upcoming Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,
With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and authority that have made her one of the most admired voices of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to be overweight in a time when the bigger you are, the less you are seen. Hunger is a deeply personal memoir from one of our finest writers, and tells a story that hasn’t yet been told but needs to be.
And finally there is World of Wakanda, a spin-off from Marvel’s Black Panther title, making Gay one of the first black women to be a lead writer for the publisher. She’s also published multiple essays, stories, commentaries, and articles in various publications and collections.
Roxane Gay is an American feminist writer, professor, editor and commentator. She was born in Nebraska to Haitian parents. Her family moved around a lot when she was younger, so she found solace in books, started writing when she was four. “I was a loner, shy and awkward,” but she was close with her two siblings, two younger brothers, and had a happy childhood. It ended with a violent sexual assault by a group of boys when she was 12, a subject she’s written about both in fiction and non-fiction. She says that what happened, “was as bad as you might expect. I came home a completely different person.” In her 2015 TED Talk, Gay said,
There was an incident. I call it an incident so I can carry the burden of what happened. Some boys broke me, when I was so young, I did not know what boys can do to break a girl. They treated me like I was nothing. I began to believe I was nothing. They stole my voice, and in the after, I did not dare to believe that anything I might say could matter.
But — I had writing. And there, I wrote myself back together. I wrote myself toward a stronger version of myself. I read the words of women who might understand a story like mine, and women who looked like me, and understood what it was like to move through the world with brown skin. I read the words of women who showed me I was not nothing. I learned to write like them, and then I learned to write as myself. I found my voice again, and I started to believe that my voice is powerful beyond measure.
Through writing and feminism, I also found that if I was a little bit brave, another woman might hear me and see me and recognize that none of us are the nothing the world tries to tell us we are.
Video: Roxane Gay’s TED Talk, “Confessions of a Bad Feminist”
In her mid-teens, she went to an exclusive boarding school, where a teacher saw in her writing both a promising talent and a very troubled person. He facilitated her getting help and encouraged her as a writer. “He taught me craft, and he also taught me discipline. He told me to write every day. I was very impressionable, and so I write every day.” Gay wrote erotica in her early 20s, before shifting to literary fiction and non-fiction as she completed her graduate degrees and started her teaching career. “Although she obviously wishes the rape had never happened, she knows it has shaped her as a writer. ‘I don’t think I would have a fraction of the fierceness in my writing if I hadn’t had to endure that, and the aftermath,’ she says,” (Roxane Gay: meet the bad feminist).
For Gay, writing is a way, “to think through what it means to be in this world.”
I definitely write to reach other people, but I write for myself first. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. It’s just that this is me trying to make sense of my place, and how did I get here, and why am I so lucky in some ways, and so unlucky in others? So it starts with me, and then I move beyond the self, as much as I can.
As an adult, besides being a teacher and a writer, and a popular speaker, Gay is also a competitive Scrabble player.
Even though she didn’t learn to speak until she was 3.5 years old, Temple Grandin is the author of six books, including the national bestsellers Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism and Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior. She is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, a prominent and widely cited proponent for the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter, and a world-renowned autism spokesperson. Grandin has a bachelor’s degree in human psychology, as well as a master’s and doctoral degree in animal science. In 2010, Grandin was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year. In 2016 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. An HBO movie based on her life received seven Emmy Awards.
Just last month, she was named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, one of only 10 women to receive the honor this year. Betty M. Bayer, the Hall’s co-president, said “We are pleased to add 10 American women to the ranks of inductees whose leadership and achievements have changed the course of American history.” CSU President Tony Frank said,
Honoring Dr. Temple Grandin in this esteemed group of women not only speaks to the power of her research and advocacy, but also her impact as a role model for young women everywhere. Early in her career, her determination helped her break into what was a largely male-dominated animal production industry, and she continues to serve as an advocate for women in the sciences, for young people with autism, and for anyone unwilling to let artificial boundaries stand in the way of their personal and professional success.
Video: Temple Grandin’s 2010 TED Talk, “The World Needs All Kind of Minds.”
S.E. Hinton in 1967, the year The Outsiders was first published.
50 years ago, a 16 year old from Oklahoma named Susan Eloise Hinton published her first book. She’d started writing it when she was 14, and it became the best selling young adult novel of all time.
I began writing in grade school, eager to make my own stories happen the way I wanted to. I had access to the local library, but my family thought my writing was some weird phase I would outgrow. I had some great English teachers who encouraged me through grade school, middle school, high school. I also made a D in creative writing the year (junior in high school) I wrote The Outsiders.
Her contract for The Outsiders arrived the day she graduated high school, and because she wasn’t yet 21, her mother had to sign too. She originally began working on the book because “I wanted to read a book that dealt realistically with teen life as I saw it.” Her publisher recommended releasing the book under “S.E. Hinton” instead of her actual first name, because a book written by a teenage girl might “throw some of the boy readers off.” She continued later to publish under that name, to both take advantage of the fame she’d earned with it (“I made the name famous. I’m not gonna lose it.“) and to keep her private life protected and separate (“I like having a private name and a public name. It helps keep things straight.”).
The Outsiders still sells half a million copies every year, but is also challenged by conservative groups frequently enough to earn it a place on the American Library Association’s banned books list — which doesn’t bother Hinton because “It’s been required [and shared] much more than it’s been banned.” The book was adapted and made into a movie, along with other books of hers. In honor of the book’s golden anniversary, Penguin Random House released a 50th Anniversary Edition in 2016. It not only contains the classic tale, but also bonus material and photographs.
Hinton completed college and was certified to teach, but, “I realized early on I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. Teachers are my heroes. They have more guts and energy than I’ll ever have.” She got married (she met her future husband in her biology class her freshman year of college), had children, and continued her writing career instead.
In 1988, Hinton received the first Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults. Ten years later, she was inducted into the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame at the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers. Altogether, she wrote five Y.A. novels, all set in Oklahoma, as well as two children’s books, and two books for adults, a novel and a collection of short stories.
Hinton continues to write, working on screenplays and “an adult paranormal comedy thriller.” Her advice?
Aspiring authors: Read and practice. Worry about the writing, not the publishing. Publishing is changing rapidly. Make sure you have something worth publishing before you try. I was writing constantly for eight years before I wrote The Outsiders. If you’re young, you will have to come up with a book as good as the adults are publishing. Nobody is going to say “pretty good for a fourteen-year-old” and invest in a book. It has to be good.