One of the highlights of our Open the Door digital festival from 18th to 22nd May 2020 will be GWL’s first ever digital poetry slam. Although the deadline for main slam entries is now past, we are still taking entries to our ‘calm slam’ for beginners (deadline 8th May). In this blog, performance poet extraordinaire Courtney Stoddart gives advice for everyone from beginners to more seasoned performers on how to write and peform your poetry for a digital slam. You can post comments or questions for Courtney at the bottom of the blog and she’ll get back to you with answers and advice in her next blog.
I hope everybody is well during these challenging times. I was meant to host a few poetry and performance workshops with Glasgow Women’s Library however due to the current circumstances this is not possible. So here is a blog, discussing basic advice on writing and performing a spoken word poem.
Firstly, some people may have the preconception that they’re not a ‘good writer’ or they can’t ‘articulate’ themselves. Often people compare their work to that of others, and feel it isn’t worthy. If you are someone who does this, my advice would be to stop comparing yourself. Everybody is unique, with their own set of experiences, values and norms in life. Meaning that we cannot expect our work to sound similar to someone else’s. Finding your own unique sound can be challenging, but it is completely possible. A good way to begin is to write as soon as you wake up, write about your dreams, your first thoughts, anything that gets your mind used to engaging in that creative process. If you struggle with writing with a pen, you can record voice notes on your phone or computer (if you have access to these). You can write about literally anything, a poem can be any amalgamation of idea, thoughts, concepts and fantasies. There are no rules in poetry, unless you choose to adhere to them.
There are many different poetry techniques and styles. There are whole books discussing them in depth. Perhaps you may find a style you really like and use that for most of your work, it’s completely dependent on what you feel comfortable with. I love rhyme and rhythm, that is where I find my flow, most likely as I grew up listening to a lot of old-skool hip-hop and rap, that has inspired the ways in which I express myself. So take a look at what you grew up with, what ignites you? There is a multitude of things we can use for inspiration, it’s just about finding what excites you and propels you to take your craft further. You can use your senses to describe things, touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. This is a great way to allow your audience to be pulled into what you are saying. Also note that emotion transmits beautifully through poetry, whether that is happiness, sadness or any emotion in between. Be completely honest – humans can sense deception, so when someone is being brutally honest about their thoughts, feelings and experiences, it automatically has an impact on the audience.
Secondly, I’d like everybody to know that no matter how nervous or insecure you may feel, confidence is something that inevitably grows with practice. I wrote for around 7 years before I ever had the confidence to actually get on a stage and perform. Even speaking in front of groups of people I didn’t know was hugely difficult for me. In primary school, I wouldn’t even say ‘here’ or ‘present’ when my name was called on the register! So that gives you an indication how hard I found public speaking in any capacity. The first step (sounds clichéd but it is true) is always belief in yourself. If you don’t believe you can do it, chances are you probably won’t. I highly recommend reading anything you’ve written in front of people you feel comfortable with. Even if you just start with one person and work your way up to two. Once you cross that hurdle, open mic’s are a great place to start. Edinburgh and Glasgow both have welcoming and friendly poetry based open mic nights, and everyone understands how hard it is read for the first time, so try not to worry as the majority of people will always be supportive of what you’re trying to achieve.
A key tip to remember when performing is ‘fake it till you make it’. Imagine someone you know who oozes confidence, a friend, a celebrity, whoever! And try to embody a little of that energy they possess. It’s crazy how much pretending that you are confident automatically makes you feel more confident. My stage persona is very different from how I am in ‘real life’. Perhaps because my poetry tends to be on the more serious side content-wise, I very rarely speak to people in the same manner in which I perform. This kind of dissociation from how you may see yourself as an individual compared to how you are on stage can help to get over the fear of performance, you are essentially ‘pretending’ whilst on stage, meaning you can leave behind all your insecurities whilst you are up there. Hold the room, own it, this is your time and your space to channel whatever it is you wish in that time.
In terms of sending a video into the slam hosted by Glasgow Women’s library, short and sweet is sometimes best, especially if you are a beginner. You will have a 3 minute time limit for the video you are submitting. This is similar to other slams, 3 minutes is usually the timeframe. For the Calm Slam, the theme is Speaking Up, something which can be a struggle for us all. Sometimes writing from a place of hurt or experience can be cathartic and very freeing, so perhaps this would be a good place to start if you are stuck for ideas, but only if that feels safe for you to do of course.
I’ve linked a few of my performance videos, and some of my favourite poets below, some at slams, some not, just for you to have a look at and engage with if you’re interested. You can find me on Instagram @Amapoetica and Facebook at Courtney Stoddart Poetry.
Jasmine Mans – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC1wGvPnTl8
Porsha O – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53kJF0DQtNo
Porsha O – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSoITsaSs0M
Mahogany L. Browne – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQ4CPUufrIQ
Please post your comments or questions for Courtney in the comments section below and we’ll get back to you. Please note, answers will be posted publicly along with the questions on our Blog before 30th April. Click for more information on the Calm Slam and on Open the Door, go to our events pages.
This blog has been created for Glasgow Women’s library with the support and partnership of the Scottish Poetry Library.