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Performance poets visit BGSU Firelands for Poetry Month

John Benson • May 12, 2015 at 6:28 PM

Want to go?

WHAT: Performance Poetry Workshop

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. April 20

WHERE: Cedar Point Center, BGSU Firelands, 1 University Dr., Huron

COST: Free

INFO: 419-372-2531

WHAT: Poetry Performance

WHEN: 7 p.m. April 20

WHERE: Cedar Point Center, BGSU Firelands, 1 University Dr., Huron

COST: Free

INFO: 419-372-2531

Clichéd as it may seem to quote a scene from “Dead Poets Society” when discussing a performance poetry workshop and performance taking place April 20 at BGSU Firelands, there’s no denying the power of the following: “We don't read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.”

In a nutshell, that Robin Williams line describes not only the poets highlighting this event – nationally-known Sara Holbrook, Ray McNiece and Michael Salinger – but also the audiences attending the affair.

“This is actually two combined events, two workshops on performance in the afternoon and an actual performance by the three guest poets and the band Tongue-in-Groove (in the evening),” said Larry Smith, professor emeritus of Humanities at BGSU Firelands and the director of the Firelands Writing Center. “We want to promote good writing in the area and also good performance of writing. Anyone who has done oral interpretation will see it done by some of the best in the nation.”

Funcoast talked to the various poets about their history, their craft and their future.

Michael Salinger/poet/Mentor resident

Salinger has been writing and performing poetry for 20 years, appearing and teaching in more than 140 cities in 26 countries. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines and books and he is an eight-time captain and coach of the Cleveland Slam team at the National Poetry Slams.

How did you get involved with performance poetry?

It was just an outgrowth. I was in bands back in the ‘80s. I did like punk bands but was also writing the whole time, and I just kind of dove into performance poetry as a default because I could read without mumbling. It went from doing performance art stuff, and I was always a writer so that’s what it fell back to, the writing.

In a nutshell, what is your work about?

Generally, it’s observational. Lately it’s about family. I’m not one who does confessional work. I’m more of an image poet, more of what I see. I’m more of a reporter than anything. I’m not very political.

Where do you hope your poetry takes you in the future?

To a comfortable retirement.

What’s a common misperception about performance poetry?

I don’t know. Maybe that performance poetry isn’t poetry. There’s a lot of it that isn’t, so I think the common misperception is that all performance poetry won’t hold up on the page.

When people hear you’re a poet, what’s the most common annoying thing you hear?

They try to rhyme. They start rhyming words at me. They think poetry is just rhyming. It’s not even clever, like hip-hop rhymes. I’m talking about your basic, “I’m a poet and don’t know it.” They don’t know what else to do. People have no clue how you can do that for a living.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your poetry?

I had another writer tell me my work was scientifically precise. I thought that was the best compliment I ever had.


Sarah Holbrook/poet/Mentor resident

Holbrook is the author of 11 poetry books for children, teens and adults, and her book “Walking on the Boundaries of Change” won a national Parent Choice Award. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, including Slam and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, and she appeared in the documentary “SlamNation.”

In a nutshell, what is your work about?

I write for kids and about women’s issues and politics and the weather. It doesn’t fit in a nutshell.

Where do you hope your poetry takes you in the future?

Retirement.

What’s a common misperception about performance poetry?

I don’t think there is a category called “performance poetry.” Some poems perform better than others, and I think those tend to be more narrative.

When people hear you’re a poet, what’s the most common annoying thing you hear?

Mostly people smile and say, “Really?” And I nod. It kind of stops them. We usually share a smile and move on. Sometimes they tell me about their art or their brother’s. I have a wonderful life having been able to make a living off of my art for the last 20 years.

 

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your poetry?

The biggest compliment is “I can identify with that.” Then I know we have connected through a common image.


Ray McNiece/poet/Cleveland resident

McNiece has been presenting his shows, writings and performance workshops for students in kindergarten through college for more than 25 years. The author of seven books of poetry, he works for both the Ohio Arts Council Arts in Education residency artist program as well as doing presentations and workshops for Young Audiences of Northeast Ohio.  In 1994, McNiece also founded Page to Stage Productions.

How did you get involved with performance poetry?

I’ve been writing since I was 7 years old or so, and I guess performing for as long. 

In a nutshell, what is your work about?

I’m known as a working-class poet. My poetry has taken me the wide world over.

What’s a common misperception about performance poetry?

The most common misperception about performance poetry is that it is slam poetry, a kind of in-your-face rant. Slam is but one small part of the range of performance poetry. Shakespeare is, of course, performance poetry. All 37 of his plays are written in verse, including blank verse, songs, sonnets and prose poetry within each play.

When people hear you’re a poet, what’s the most common annoying thing you hear?

When people hear I’m a poet, well, it’s not annoying. Whatever they say, it’s an opportunity to show them that poetry is the extraordinary lives they live everyday.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your poetry?

That it changed their lives.

The performance poetry workshop and performance is free and open to the public. The workshop takes place at 11:30 a.m. April 20, while the evening program begins at 7 p.m. April 20. Both are in the Cedar Point Center, 1 University Drive, Huron. For more information, call 419-372-2531.

Are you a writer? Get involved!

Believe it or not, our area does have a writers’ group. The Firelands Writing Center is a free and open writers’ cooperative that’s been part of the community services at BGSU Firelands for 20 years running. The FWC meets monthly for writer workshops, where people can share their writing with fellow writers. FWC also sponsors the Coffeehouse Reading Series at Mr. Smith’s Coffeehouse once a month, and has sponsored a weekend Island Writers Retreat for the past 12 years. For more information, contact Larry Smith at lrsmith@bgsu.edu or 419-433-5560.

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