Discovering the Relevance of Words
When I graduated from college in 2003 with a degree in Creative Writing, and a focus on poetry, I started to wonder what it was I would do with both the knowledge I’d gained, as well as the sheet of paper. It seemed that, for the most part, poetry was this ancient art form in which fewer people were taking a true interest. I already knew that trying to make a living as a poet was probably not the route to venture, so I decided that I would follow in the footsteps of my mother, and become a teacher. If I couldn’t make a living at writing it, I might as well work with others who at least shared an interest in it.
I quickly realized that most high school students had absolutely no interest in poetry, and that it was, in fact, the most boring unit of the semester. This was troubling. I wasn’t ready for the art I loved to disappear so quickly. After fighting back my frustrations for so long, I decided it was to take a new approach, to change directions, and figure out what poetry meant in today’s society.
As an avid fan of hip-hop, and spoken word, I knew that there had been a massive cultural change over the last several decades, and that poetry had taken on a new meaning. More and more students were expressing an interest in rap lyrics as poetry, and the idea that a poem was simply words on paper became a bit distant.
In my 6th period Creative Writing 1 class, I posed the question of whether or not poetry still had a place in today’s culture. I was surprised to find that a good portion of my students attended a weekly poetry slam in Portland, Oregon at Backspace. This was intriguing, because I’d never been to the event, or even knew of its existence. It had only been a couple of years since I had found the world of Slam Poetry, and I was still in the process of becoming familiar with – still attempting to move away from the 17th century poetry that I loved, and into this new world, and even still trying to be okay with rap lyrics as poems, since a good portion of slam takes on the same feel as hip-hop without the music.
My students and I came up with the plan to send messages to a handful of well-known Slam Poets, and a few hip-hop emcees, and see if we could get their thoughts on the relevance of poetry in today’s world. We were so amazed with the responses that we decided to keep it going. After nearly 2000 tweets to different celebrity authors, emcees, actors, musicians, and athletes, and more than 200 responses, our twitter site was finally put on suspension for suspected spam. While this was unfortunate, I had luckily taken photos of every tweet that we had received. While doing this, I decided that not only would I open up my own website to address these issues, but that I would open a separate twitter account under the name The Poetry Question in order to better the odds of responses, and begin to cull things together for a possible group of essays, or a book on the current state of poetry.
Hopefully you find something in here of interest. Even if you’re just curious about what celebrities have responded, take a look through the list, and you might begin to enjoy what you read.
***It’s going to take me a while to upload all the photos from my twitter site, but I should have them up by the end of the week at the latest.