How Spoken Word Poetry Matches Bustlin’ New York

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Jenny Johnson recently walked away with a $50,000 award from Whiting Foundation because of her poetry. The poem she read at a Bryant Park spoken word event had an unusual topic: an extinct frog. The platypus frog to be exact. When asked why she chose this frog, she spoke to her wonderment at the animal. Females changed their stomachs into a womb and eat her own eggs. She also has a lesser known but also great poem about the beauty of “limo winnipeg” that really blew away those from the city of Winnipeg about their transportation service.

Events, such as the Word for Word poetry series that Johnson performed at, are right at home in New York City’s Bryant Park. It sports the Reading Room, an exclusive club for writers to engage their craft on-stage. Patrons from all walks of life enter this facility. The crowd is as unique as New York itself.images

The other readers at this event include Carelli, Aracelis Girmay, and Roger Reeves. Each of them spoke to the crowd with a distinct voice and intensity. Carelli engages the crowd with poems that are romantic, funny, and tragic. Girmay recounts her mixed ethnicity and how sand was pulled from every corner of the globe for her design. Reeves channels the crowd’s sentiment with poems about fatherhood and his new daughter. Such are the poets who’s craft made this wonderful event possible.

Poetry an outlet for learning

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Te Kahu Rolleston admits he has “always loved words”.

Now the Slam Poetry winner is visiting schools, such as Te Aroha College, to promote poetry as a way of learning.

Influenced by Kapa Haka and “battle rap”, Rolleston said his winning poems were a mixture of these.

Battle rap is a type of rapping that includes a lot of bragging and boasting.

“In my school years I was the battle rap champion,” he said.1438914200366

But rap was always about “dissing the competitor” and he eventually got tired of it, instead using his gift of words to write poems, he said.

His first poem, titled “Te RarangaTira” was written in 2013.

Not only is poetry entertaining, 24-year-old Rolleston believes that it also has educational benefits.

He sees poems as mnemonic devices – techniques a person can use to help them improve their ability to remember something.

For example, while at high school in Tauranga, his science teacher turned complicated names into rhymes, helping the students to familiarise themselves

with each concept, he said.

Rolleston now tours around mainstream New Zealand schools, as part of Te Aho Tu Roa, a youth development programme, performing his poems and holding workshops.

Touring the schools is Rolleston’s “dream job” and his goal is to start seeing more young poets emerge.

“I want them to be better than me”.

New Taft Artist-in-Residence – Alysia Nicole Harris

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Writing poetry is about more than finding rhymes. This type of poetry is a process that is more meditative. To write poetry, Alysia Nicole Harris says she focuses on herself and centers herself when trying to find the right words for the page. She further states, “I think, at least for me, poetry has been a practice that has been a lot like meditation or prayer in a certain regard.”

Harris was recently selected for the 2015 Artist-in-Residence by the Duncanson Society of the Taft Museum of Art. She will be doing presentations workshops in the community, in schools, and at the Taft itself between October 21 and November 4, 2015.

Harris says she enjoys engaging with people in an informal way because she likes to have a conversation with people. She goes on to say, “I am interested in learning as much as I am interested in being in a teaching role.”download (4)

She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in poetry from NYU and is a Ph.D. candidate in linguistics at Yale. Some of her accomplishments include publication in Indiana Review, Catch & Release in Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, Solstice, and Vinyl Magazine. Harris has toured globally, being featured in an HBO production called “Brave New Voices.” Besides her selection as the Taft Artist-in-Residence, she has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize as well as winning the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize in 2014 and 2015. She was one of the final nominees for the 2013 Indiana Prize Review, the 2014 Edwin Markham, and the Joy Harjo prizes.

The Taft Director/CEO stated that having Harris there coincides nicely with Jacob Lawrence’s Heroism in Paint: A Masters Series special exhibition. Harris said she is interested in discovering how Lawrence’s works, which portray African American life, show another interpretation of the battles fought for freedom.

There will be an opening reception October 21 at the Taft Museum from 6 to 8 p.m. where Harris will read two excerpts of her work. Then, on October 23, Harris will host an event from 10 to 11:30 a.m. At this event, attendees will participate by writing about their personal views of Cincinnati. Attendees will use the murals of Robert S. Duncan and poetry by African Americans as inspiration.

Another event hosted by Harris at Taft on October 25 from 1 to 4 p.m. is called “Legacy Through Storytelling: A Multigenerational Program.” Children and parents are to share a personal story of success using the griot and haiku poetic traditions. Harris will then help participants immortalize that experience in a three-line haiku.

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