About Spoken Word: "Spoken Word Needs YOU!"
August issue of Mosaic Newspaper
by Terry Burns
No, this isn’t Words Aloud Spoken Word and Storytelling Festival’s version of a recruiting poster, but now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk poetry...and I mean literally.
Because that is what spoken word is all about, poetry and stories coming to you not just by the printed page, but via the bodies and voices of their creators, onstage and in person, immediate, visceral, and fresh. Before the printed word became ubiquitous, this is the way it had always been, a dynamic, embodied relationship between bard and listener.
To give you an idea of this dynamism and embodiment, we need to get a little audience participation going, and this is where the talking comes in. Several of the remarkable spoken word artists who will be joining Words Aloud in November have provided us with some choice pieces of work as festival “spoilers”, and that makes a great opportunity to begin to get some idea of the vitality of spoken word. As we take a look at the pieces, you need to do only one thing: read them aloud. Roll the words around on your tongue, listen for the rhymes, feel the rhythms and syllabic stresses like tides surging and ebbing, experience the way your lips and tongue navigate their way around consonant repetitions. Read the work to others, by all means, or read them when you are alone, with only your dog sitting at your feet thinking you’re talking to her.
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Humour is a key ingredient in Ariel Gordon’s poetry, especially in her first book of poems, Hump (Palimpsest Press), which details her unsentimental experiences with pregnancy. This poem is called “Seven Months: ultrasound introductions”.
I am the fork-scarred sink, the water table
you are the warming goldfish
your father is the big eye anxious on your domestic bulge
the wet magnification of dorsal flicker
I am the dip & dunk tank, the basin overflowing
but they should have known better –
you might circle my drain
fin & bony ripple on every grainy pass
but I’m the only one likely to go belly up.
Again, it is in the saying it aloud that certain things about this poem become apparent. The insistent first beat of many of sentences and the repetition of the words “I” and “you(r)” lend the poem a solemn incantatory quality. And yet, this gravity is belied by the playful use of water/plumbing/fish imagery which works so well in the context of bodily pregnancy fluids. The solemnity and the wit then merge seamlessly in the last line, where the first strongly stressed beat is again the word “I”, and the rest of the sentence is a humorous reference to the birthing position, with a touch of menace thrown in by other connotations of the term “belly up”.
This short little piece, in its content and its structure, gives us a glimpse of the simultaneous seriousness and silliness inherent in pregnancy and birth. We see again that reading a poem aloud reveals not just semantic meaning, but can also offer a sensory counterpoint to the content which deepens our understanding of the work.
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This article was written in advance of my appearance at the WordsAloud Festival this coming November, where I'll be reading with dub poet Lillian Allen and Iraqi journalist/writer-in-exile Ayub Nuri.
I know it's my traditional response but this time I REALLY mean it: Yay! Fun!