Moira Pirsch, top, and Tish Jones
I was a shy 15-year-old the first time I performed spoken-word poetry. I hesitantly stepped on the stage, shaking with fear. I had no idea that this was the start of a road that would carry me through many more days of my life.
I went on to attend every poetry event possible, including the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Festival in New York City, the largest gathering of youth poets in the world.
It was there I first met Tish Jones, a young Twin City poet and teacher who found spoken-word poetry when experiencing personal hardship as a teen. “I just wrote. It was fierce and intense and I realized that I had a new option in how I could respond,” Jones said. “I could address my feelings and perform directly to some of the people who I was hurt by. I had been touched by spoken word in its realest, purest form, not in my ego, but in my heart.”
At Brave New Voices, we were embraced by some of the greatest poets and educators who paved the national spoken-word road. They taught us how to create safe spaces in our work and to encourage community that creates together.
The power of now
As I grew into my life, I began filling my days with endless to-dos and put unnecessary pressure on myself. However, poetry has always been my gateway back to the present moment.
At poetry events, poets and audiences leave the world at the door and create an entirely new space that redefines the rules of who has the power to say what; a space where every person’s story is honored and everyone is welcome to share. Poetry helps us rise into the present moment, above all the drama of our chaotic lives, and feel the poet’s message-and feel ourselves as a result.
There is something in the way a poet’s spirit takes you, shakes you and forces you here, and forces you to hear with your whole body. Sometimes, the work falls short of the best thing you’ve ever heard, but bottom line (in my opinion), sharing in a way that binds people together, in a way that brings us to a new place, is the best thing ever.
Spoken word in the Twin Cities
Spoken word exists within a long tradition of oral cultures across the world. The Twin Cities falls into this tradition with a rich history of performance poetry dating back to the ’50s and the Beat generation (and probably much earlier). Our history is full of avant-garde artists and curators who have consistently supported this work, pushed the art form forward and made it possible for artists like me to exist.
I feel the exceptional support the Twin Cities spoken word community provides to women artists. I have felt the echoes of the work of leaders in this field, such as Desdamona, Monkwe Ndosi, Shá Cage, Carolyn Holbrook and others. This work has been supported by organizations and events including Intermedia Arts, B-Girl Be, The Loft Literary Center, The Minnesota Spoken Word Association, Pillsbury House Theater among others.
We are all writers
Teaching is fundamental in relation to the communal aspect of spoken word. “Young people need to be able to express themselves. We all have a responsibility to create that space,” Jones said, knowing how important this space is first hand.
My first solo teaching experience was with a class of middle- schoolers, who weren’t exactly thrilled to learn poetry. They were often distracted and disruptive and I frequently left class feeling like I had failed. I felt like I would never get through to two students in particular, but I kept encouraging them to write. On the last day of class, we invited all the parents for a final performance, but only two came. They were the parents of those two students. They shared with me that this class was all the young poets ever talked about. In that final performance, those students rose into themselves and blossomed.
Land of 10,000 poets
Living in Minnesota, we often skim the surface of each other’s lives and communicate “Minnesota Nicely,” which works, but doesn’t always build community in the ways needed in our cities. Poetry provides a shortcut into the deepest parts of the lakes of our spirits-the parts that are multifaceted, dense and complicated. Through poetry, I feel a part of a unified system, similar to the way our state’s lake system works; one that is always transferring energy through sacred streams to one another. Some give, some receive, and in this cycle, all are equally important, connecting us across our vast state. We flow to know.
FFI: For Spoken Word opportunities in Minnesota visit minnesotamicrophone.com
Signup is usually one hour before event
Minnesota Spoken Word Association offers multiple spoken word events across the Twin Cities. mnspokenword.wordpress.com
Intermedia Arts offers monthly spoken word events hosted by the area’s leading artists. 2822 S. Lyndale Ave., Minneapolis, www.intermediaarts.org
The Loft Literary Center Equilibrium Series events monthly, hosted by Bao Phi. 1011 Washington Ave. S., #200, Minneapolis, www.loft.org
South City Café Open Mic every other Friday, 7 p.m., hosted by Tish Jones. 3405 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis, www.southcitycafe.com
Blue Nile Restaurant Open Mic every Tuesday, 11 p.m. hosted by Desdamona. 2027 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, www.bluenilempls.com
Canvas Teen Arts Center workshops every Wednesday, 4:30-6 p.m., hosted by Guante. 1610 Hubbard Ave. W., St. Paul, www.canvas651.com
Voices Merging at the University of Minnesota Open Mic every 2nd and 4th Monday, 8-10 p.m. 2-650 Moos Tower, 500 Washington Ave. S.E., Minneapolis, www.voicesmerging.com
Kieran’s Irish Pub Poetry Slam every fourth Tuesday 8 p.m. hosted by SlamMN. 600 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, www.slammn.org
The Artists’ Quarter Poetry Slam every first Monday 8 p.m. hosted by Soap Boxing. 408 Saint Peter St., St. Paul, www.soap-boxing.com