Poetry Reading in a College Town
And she said, “They’re going to LOVE
your political stuff.”
Maybe it was the long drive north
or too much coffee,
but if one more person does a potty poem
in the open mic
“I’m such a lady,
I hate passing out
where boys pee.”
or another poem about puking
“She wiped it up
and hung my head
in the toilet.
Now that’s what friends are for.”
just one more word –
I’ll whip them
with the live end of my mic cord.
With so much else
going on in the world
you’d think someone in this room
would be writing about it.
“It was a gray day
but the tequila shots
lining the bar
were shiny like sunshine.”
I feel old
sitting in the back of the bar
sipping bad wine from a paper cup,
wondering if they’ll catch the sarcasm
in my new poem about Rush Limbaugh,
if they’ll know who he is,
if they’ll even care.
I needn’t have worried though.
Most of them leave during intermission.
The next morning
we drive into a day
where the air smells good enough to eat
and water winds its way
alongside the road.
Signs proclaim “Moose Crossing”
and “Just Darn Good Food.”
When I look up
from writing this poem
Lake Winnipesauke materializes
just beyond the edge of road –
something a magician
is pulling out of a black hat.
“A pool stick makes a great weapon though a baseball bat is better.”
spoke the last young man
in the open mic.
I do not understand
this sleight of hand,
this abracadabra – making it all disappear.
Maybe last night
was just my imagination.
How could a room full of teens
not be outraged
by what is happening
in places beyond
their college town?
ABOUT ELIZABETH THOMAS
The Spoken-Word On Elizabeth Thomas
By Ron Samul
Elizabeth Thomas is a poet, educator, and ambassador for spoken-word poetry.
Anyone who has been to a poetry reading or a poetry slam knows the importance of spoken-word poetry. It is part performance / part creative writing. And, if that isn't enough, the audience gets to participate.
Spoken-word poetry for Elizabeth Thomas is about creation, the writing, and the performance as a process. This is clear in her teaching, her workshops, and in her work as poet. She presents herself as a role model for the spoken-word poets and their significance in the world. Elizabeth is a poet who sees poetry as a remedy and a resource.
Elizabeth Thomas came from the corporate world, but her workshops, website, and her life as a poet have little of the business world shadow on her style. She is very generous with her ideas, her poetry, and her feedback. Her approach to poetry is simple and effective. Her concept of poetry isn't just what is on the page, but how it is pronounced and given from the mouth of a poet. That is the spoke-word element of her art.
The UpWords Poetry program shows students how easy and emotional poetry can come to those who are playful with words.
"I see poetry as unclenching the fist around your heart to release expression of who you are," Thomas said. "High school students have too many ready options that give them a solitary, isolated environment like the computer and video games. Even though they are emailing and text messaging each other, they are still alone. Writing and poetry can also be done alone, but by performing the poetry it takes the writing to a performance level."
Along the first floor corridor of the Naugatuck, Ct. High School, where Elizabeth Thomas was the poet in Residence for 2007, the hallways are busy with students coming and going. The tone of the bell beeps everyone into their classrooms.
In a room full of students last year, Elizabeth presented a 45-minute primer on poetry. Her presentation was methodical, but delivered with exacting skill, one step building into the next step. She introduced herself and then asked the class, who likes poetry and why?
Students remarked that the lyrical sense of words like songs, emotions, and tapping into the dark side are important to poetry.
Elizabeth responded, "Poetry is a compound language, and emotion comes first."
She put aside meter, rhyme, stanzas and all the technical components. That came later. She read her own poem. The class to listened and responded.
Elizabeth went on to prompt the new poets.
"The color red; what would it sound like?"
When it came time for students to share, this prompt made a strong connection.
Students said that the color red sounded like kissing, sirens, crackling fire, and heart beats.
When she asked them, "What would red taste like," the answers were buffalo wings, mouth full of hot lava, and fire.
Very quickly, these students were playing with words.
She then introduced the concept of metaphor and simile and posed the question, "If you could be any color what would you be?"
She touched on free writing and finding small nuggets of poetry to foster in journals and other types of free writing. She also discussed line breaks and how they are important to sound of poetry. She explained the value of poetry to speak to others by making a card or sending a poem to someone on the computer.
Students read their work aloud. They listened to the spoek words of others.
Elizabeth spoke about contests and submitting work to her website.
In 45 minutes, she had fostered an understanding of poetry, wordplay, and the spoken-word in all of the students in that class. It was over quickly, just like that.
The students gathered their bags and papers and they were gone. Some stopped and thanked her for her presentation; other just took their poetry and slipped it into their notebooks.
Another dimension to Elizabeth Thomas is her spoken-word competition. The concept of the poetry slam can be somewhat adversarial, but she sees this environment as a strong resource for poets.
"Poetry needs to be heard, performed, read by the person who wrote it," Elizabeth said. "It adds a dimension of the writing and spoken-word performers have a different dimension. The writer gets to interact with the audience, get an immediate response, and instant feedback. It becomes an exciting thing in their lives. And the audience gets to participate and be involved."
She coaches the Connecticut team that is part of the Brave New Voices program, a national competition that brings performance poetry to a new level.
"Not only do they have this interaction, but they also incorporate body language, facial expression, some memorize their poetry and that makes a big difference," Elizabeth said. "I work with the Connecticut Team for the Brave New Voices where they have to prepare and memorize their poetry. There is a regional and a national competition. The points are not the point, the point is the poetry. It is an amazing opportunity to meet kids from all over the world."
She has participated in poetry slams and events all over the world and continues to foster and support people in competition.
The concept of the "Poetry Slam" originated in Chicago in the 1980's. The first national poetry slam was held in the early 90's in San Francisco.
Now, the National Poetry Slam has more than 75 teams competing in a five-day event. While legendary critic Harold Bloom called poetry slams "the death of art," it has been a cornerstone in Elizabeth Thomas' life. It is a driving force in getting poets to perform their work, polish their style, writing, and presentation, and be confident in the process. To compete in the national competition, students must memorize their poetry, have brilliant execution in performance, and be ready to move forward if they advance.
All this doesn't come strictly from the educator in Thomas, it comes from the poet. She derives much of her working poetry from free writing.
"Ninety-five percent of the time, I don't know where I'm going when I am free writing," she said.
Like those nuggets from the students, she fosters her own ideas and develops them into significant work. The power of her voice and her style come from her clear and vivid long-term relationship with poetry: "Poetry taught me about me."
Upwords Poetry Workshops have been presented all over the country to young writers and educators. In 2006, Elizabeth was the program coordinator for the Writing/Poetry Program for the World Scholar-Athlete Games where young writers, athletes, instructors and coaches from around the globe came together at the University of Rhode Island. She is a coach for Brave New Voices / Inter-National Youth Poetry Slam and Festival. Brave New Voices 10 was held in San Jose, CA in July 2007.
Her first book of poetry, Full Circle was published in 2000 by Hanover Press. She is currently working on her second collection of poems and recently finished a book on creative writing for children and teachers entitled, If Only Red Could Talk. She was a poet-in-residence for the Connecticut Review and the Writer In Residence for the Naugatuck School System 2007.
Elizabeth is a poet who believes in the idea of poetry as "remedy and resource." Throughout her life, she uses writing as a tool to help "understand things that don't make sense."
Ron Samul is a Website designer and publisher of Miranda Literary Magazine.He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing from Western Connecticut State University and won the Connecticut AWP award in fiction in 2005.