Five approaches to the way we use words.
WORDS HAVE SOUL, MEANING AND LIFE. THEY CAN UPLIFT OR HURT DEEP WITHIN. THEY CAN UNCOVER BROKENNESS AND OFFER HEALING. THEY CAN CONGRATULATE, ENCOURAGE, EMPOWER AND SPEAK VOLUMES. WORDS CREATE RHYTHM AND TAKE YOU TO PLACES YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN. WORDS ARE ENGAGING TO LISTEN TO WHEN THEY ARE BACKED WITH PASSION. WORDS CREATE EMOTION AND LAUGHTER AND NEW THINKING. LOCAL POETS ARE USING WORDS TO DO THESE THINGS THROUGH PERFORMANCE, SPOKEN WORD, FILM, PUBLICATION AND PERSONAL ENJOYMENT.
Spoken word isn’t merely just reading a poem from a written page. It is much more dynamic, moving energy in and out to an audience by way of voice and inflection. Pam Whitfield, an award-winning poet and teacher, is most interested in spoken word performance when it comes to poetry. When a colleague first approached her with the idea of slowing her poetry down and backing it with music, she was apprehensive. She doesn’t regret taking the risk because it developed her love for collaboration and performance through spoken word.
Whitfield has created and performed original work in collaboration with Assisi Heights symposiums, Rochester Diversity Council and Arts Council, Faith Talk Show, local theaters, as well as many other events and poetry slams in Rochester. She has performed her work with accompanied music, film, dance and in costumes.
As a trained journalist, Whitfield is also interested in storytelling. If she isn’t telling her story, she is telling another’s story. “Everyone has a great story to tell. Every type of experience, dreams and aspirations, hurts and regrets, vulnerabilities and moments of great beauty.” As a teacher, she encourages her students to tell the story that scares them, pushing them to take outside adventures to experience new things, meet new people, and do things they have never done before. These encounters and activities encourage their growth as writers and help them tackle their own stories with courage.
Whitfield doesn’t shy away from controversial or difficult topics in her writing either. She has written about politics, human trafficking and human rights, diversity and inclusion and polarization in this country. Whitfield believes that, “Spoken word is a powerful tool to share a social or political message.”
The District Arts Board of STEM Academy is no stranger to how powerful the spoken word can be. With an award-winning and published team of spoken word poets, local communities are no stranger either to what these high school students can deliver onstage. Their resume of performance venues includes Augsburg College in Minneapolis, High School for Recording Arts in St Paul, Rotary Club in Golden Valley, and locally at Café Steam and Rochester Civic Theatre, participating in Women on Wednesday’s events and poetry slams.
Over the past five years STEM Academy students Nasro, Ekhlas, Faiso, Omar, Najma, Amina, Nafiso, Osman, and Sagal have worked with poets through the nonprofit arts education organization, COMPAS, to build their craft. They are now leaders and teachers to their peers, as well as to other schools guiding the development of spoken word teams. Collaboration with the Rochester Alternative Learning Center, Apex Program, and Rochester Boys and Girls Club has been a start. This year they will work with youth at the YMCA teaching spoken word and seeking more connections. As a voice for young people and the Somali community, they are looking not only to express today’s problems in the world or controversial issues that make people uncomfortable, but offer a message of hope, change and unification through poetry.
When Cloey Walsh, a local filmmaker, first heard about the poem, “Femme Fatal” by Psychedelic Saint, she thought “the poem portrayed a really simple message of feminism that could unite women across all different backgrounds and belief systems.” Her vision then turned into a four and half minute film that brought together women from around Rochester using the poem. The film features women of different ages, professions and ethnicities. The original take of the film was shot at Forager Brewery, where 75 women showed up in response to a call for readers. They each picked a line from the poem that spoke to them and were filmed reciting it.
More footage was captured later around Rochester with more women reading before it was finally pieced together. Ironically, this moving film was created right before the #MeToo movement began and now has an even more impactful meaning. The film “Femme Fatal” can be viewed on YouTube and features music from Thelma and the Sleaze.
Your shadow is a footprint on the forest floor. Visually inspired poetry moves the reader through the writing of Kim Zabel in her book, “Shadowprints.” Zabel is a local freelance writer, photographer, poet and health and wellness coach, interested in the mystery of poetry, getting beneath the layers and solving the riddle. Inspired by nature and the outdoors, her book captures the hidden messages within the landscape photography work of Gary Alan Nelson. The words she uses to dissect the photographs create a new visual language for the reader.
When Renee Thoreson hit a wall in finding an appropriate spring Easter-themed poem for an event at her church, she decided to make use of her own writing experience. A writer in philanthropy, she explores the layers of people’s stories and business successes. Reflecting on her own story, memories of her grandmother tending a garden, planting seeds and caring for each flower, made her realize that we are all like flowers and God cares for us in the same way. She was inspired to write “God is in My Garden,” a rhyming poem of a few stanzas that she read at the event. This began Thoreson’s personal journey with poetry, writing when inspiration hits. She enjoys the work of Shel Silverstein and writing about the lighter side of life, weaving in humor and lessons. She is currently writing a children’s book.
Joy Blewett is a visual and media arts teacher and local freelance writer and designer.