...and Frequently Given Answers
- Do you do that "Def Jam" stuff?
- What is slam poetry?
- What is the difference between poetry and "spoken word?"
- Is your poetry supposed to be funny?
- Does poetry have to rhyme?
- How long does a poem have to be?
- Is it bad if I "get" one of your poems?
- Who is your favorite poet?
- What is your favorite poem that you've written?
- What's your favorite poem to perform?
- Who's your favorite music artist?
- What do you do when you get Writer's Block?
- Do you ever get nervous before performances?
- How do you handle rejection?
- How do you define your poetry, or your style?
- How do you memorize the pieces that you perform?
- How can you tell if people actually liked your poem, and aren't just clapping politely?
- What's your advice to a newcomer?
- What inspires you to write?
- What's with the video camera?
- How do you find places to read?
- Who is your favorite author?
- How do I get into poetry?
- What do you do if an audience doesn't like your performance?
- Are you an actor? / Have you been trained as an actor?
- Are you in school?
- How can you stand those long drives you make?
- So are you living in (your city here) now?
- Have you been published? / Do you have a book?
A: I haven't watched a whole lot of Def Poetry Jam. The quick answer is: No. I don't "jam." I read, I recite, I perform, but I don't jam.
A: There is no such thing as "slam poetry" per se. Poetry slams are poetry events that are competition-based, and aim for a more exciting presentation of the literary arts. In my experiences, they tend to be rooted in hip-hop. Any style or form of poetry is welcome however, as long as it stays within the boundaries of the specific slam that the piece is brought to. The poets I've seen, tend to rap and yell yet, there's always one poet reading a Greek elegy, or some such thing. "Slam poetry" as a genre, is a myth.
A: If you're asking as a writer, the difference is that: "Poetry" can stay on the page, and still be called, "poetry." "Spoken word" is what that poetry becomes when it's performed for an audience.
If you're asking as a performer, there is no difference. The term "spoken word" is used by two groups of people. The first group are people who are trying to do something that isn't poetry, at a poetry reading. They try to fudge their act through by calling it, "spoken word." The other group is poets who are trying to do poetry at a non-poetry event. They claim that it's, "spoken word" so that no one will turn their nose at the thought of a poem being read.
That group also uses "spoken word" as a euphemism for poetry in an attempt to draw a mainstream crowd to what is more or less, a poetry event. Poets will sometimes identify as "spoken-word artists" for the same euphemistic reasons. "Spoken-word artist" is also used to describe a poet who has no interest in the written side of poetry (publishing, submitting, reading), and expresses themself solely through public performance.
A: Every poem is open to interpretation. I try to make it evident when the poem is intended for humor, but that's not the final word. The final word is for you the audience member to decide how you want to feel, and react however you see fit. On several occasions I've written what I believed to be serious pieces, only to have audiences laugh at each reading of them. Those reactions influenced how I looked at the pieces from then forward, and it changed how I present them now.
A: Absolutely not. In fact, the more seasoned a writer/performer I've become, the more I hear from my peers, "I hate rhyming poetry." The concern is that, if you're focused on the rhyme, you're not focused on overall quality, nor are you using the full range that you may be capable of. Personally, I have nothing against poems that rhyme, provided they are indeed of quality.
A: Unless you are writing in a specific format, such as a sonnet, poems have no set length. A poem can be however long or short you need it to be, to convey your message. The shortest sentence in the English language is, "I am." Keep that in mind.
A: More myths.... Poetry, for the most part, isn't meant to be impenetrable. I've crossed paths with a few jerks who intend to lose their audience, but they are in the minority (let's hope). I would love for the world to "get" my poems, but I know I can't reach all the people, all the time. If there's something of mine that you don't quote/unquote, "get", contact me. I'd love to discuss it.
A: Ken Muthaf**in' Feltges! He doesn't have a website, but he's from my hometown of Buffalo, NY, and I've worked the WNY circuit with him for over half of a decade now. He's amazing. For me, when he reads, the world outside of that room, does not exist.
A: I don't pick favorite creations that way. When I finish a poem, it's because I feel that piece is complete, and that I like it. If I don't enjoy it, it doesn't get completed until I do. So I have no reason not to like any of my poems. I suppose you could say that my favorite poem is my next one.
A: Big difference in questions. I do have favorite poems to perform, but it changes frequently. What makes a piece my favorite though, is the reaction it draws out of a crowd. Some poems are meant for reflection, but then there are those ones that make people cry, or laugh so hard they change colors. I like taking those emotions out of myself and putting them into other people. Any poem that does that becomes my new favorite.
A: Currently, Finger Eleven. They're from Burlington, Ontario, Canada. Growing up a border-city boy, a lot of my music taste comes from Canada. I've been big into Alanis Morissette, Barenaked Ladies, Tragically Hip, Bif Naked. The list goes on to present day with bands such as USS and Billy Talent.
A: I do anything besides write. I shadowbox, I cook, I organize something. Part of Writer's Block is the obsession over having not produced anything. The feeling compounds, because you spend every second agonizing over it. When you distract yourself, your mind will begin to forget that you had Writer's Block in the first place.
A: Nope. The stage is the place where I feel most comfortable. When I'm in the wings, I know I'm going home. Having a microphone in my hands feels natural. I've never known stage fright, and I can't recall ever feeling "the butterflies".
A: I handle rejection with tenacity. There's no door in the world that won't cave, if you kick it enough repeatedly.
A: I choose not to define my style, or my poetry. I feel that definition means confinement. As soon as I say that I'm a "_____ poet", I put myself into a box, something that I don't want to do. I'll do whatever necessary to get my point across. Today, that might mean writing a sestina. Tomorrow, that might mean writing an experimental free-verse. There's no reason to limit yourself with a label for somebody else's comfort.
A: I frequently make multi-hour drives for shows. When I'm traveling alone, that gives me hours upon hours to go over the poem that I want memorized.
If you want to learn to memorize your own pieces, research acting methods. Actors have all kinds of ways to memorize lines for acting roles.
A: Eyes never lie. Look at people's eyes. If you close your eyes, and listen, the applause all sounds the same, but if you look at people's faces, you ought to see quickly who's with you, and who isn't.
A: If your path solely involves the writing aspect of poetry, my advice is to write as frequently as possible. Leave no idea, or fragment of an idea undocumented. Throw nothing away. If you're interested in the performing arts, my advice is to never say no to a gig. Perform as often as possible. Until you have a year or two under your belt, you need to spend time in the trenches, making mistakes, getting defeated, and coming back wiser. Even if you're interested solely in performing, you still need to adhere to the former advice. Always be writing. In both cases, you ought to experience as much of life as possible. More experiences, equals more references to draw from, in your work.
A: Everything from a good taco, to the death of a loved one could be the impetus for a poem.
A: I film all of my performances. The idea is to study the playback, and to improve. Football teams study footage of their opponents to learn their weaknesses, I do the same. I never film anybody else.
A: Local newspapers often have arts listings in them, that list and detail reading venues in the area. For traveling abroad, the internet is a great place to search for series. The best way however, is to go to a reading, and ask other poets where they read. Many series still don't have websites, or newspaper listings, and exist only through word-of-mouth, and handbill/poster/flyer-like advertisement.
A: I don't read an awful lot in the terms of multiple works by a single author. I read between twenty and fifty books each year, mostly autobiographies. I have enjoyed the novels of Mick Foley, however.
A: To become a performer, the only genuine way to enter the poetry community, is to attend, and perform at open mics. Reading poems to friends, or reciting a piece at a church picnic does not make a genuine performer. From the paper and ink side of poetry, getting published by credible outlets such as established newspapers, journals, and magazines is a valid method of entering the world of poetry. Posting poems on a blog, or a social networking site, does not merit credibility.
A: With experience, a performer learns how to read an audience. With time, there ought to be fewer, and fewer instances of having a performance "bomb". These things do happen though, and when it happens to me, I go to the next show, and double my efforts to perform an instant classic.
A: I took theater classes in high school, and in college. It has nothing to do with my stage performances. I learned presence, timing and the like through things such as martial arts training. I have acted in small productions around my hometown, but that's purely because I don't say no to a booking. I don't perform theatrically to mimic actors, I do so because that's the way I believe poetry is meant to be displayed.
A: Since 2011, this question has made its way into the top 3 most frequently asked questions I get. I still have no idea what people are trying to ascertain when they ask this. In 2013 I elected to return to academics, pursuing a degree from Harvard, making use of its online courses to study creative writing. What I do after undergrad, is still to be determined.
A: I have every possible tool and technology at my disposal that people fifty years ago would have murdered men in cold blood for. Not even in my car, but in my pocket I have: a GPS; an MP3 player loaded with thousands of songs, audiobooks and podcasts; a hands-free set that allows me to call anyone in the world without straining my neck to hold the phone; with said phone, and the economization of phone service, I can call anyone in North America, at any time, and it won't affect my phone bill. There are apps on my phone that tell me every restaurant, gas station, hotel and hotspot within a five-mile radius of each and every highway exit, on each and every highway I drive. Cars are smoother than they've ever been, the roads are the most conducive they've ever been. What's the challenge?
A: I was born, raised and am currently residing in Buffalo, New York. It makes a good hub city. Contrary to popular belief, I do not live in any of the other cities I frequent.
A: Over ten years into my writing career, I still do not have a book of my work published. When the time is right, when the circumstances are right - and most importantly, when I want it to: it will happen. In the interim, I have been and am regularly published in local, regional, national and international journals, anthologies and 'zines. Check out my CV for more info on what and where!