The Spoken Word Workbook: Inspiration From Poets Who Teach
by Sheri-D Wilson

Calgary Spoken Word Society and The Banff Centre Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-894-77340-9.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 10/04/2011

Nonfiction: Biography; Nonfiction: Creative Life

As Sheri-D Wilson says in her introduction: "Poetry has moved back to its roots, or its oral origin, and thus this new form has returned the voice of the people to the people." The Spoken Word Workbook is a marvelous celebration of life, writing, performance and an invitation to write and perform your own work. There's a magnificent array of poet-teachers inviting you in and cheering you on from the pages of this book.

I've had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the performances of many of the spoken word artists featured here. To learn more about them through their history and their writing has been enlightening. Actually, it's been like the couch conversations I enjoy while hanging out at poetry festivals. The writing exercises and performance tips offered by the artists are inspiring and innovative. All of this is presented in a book that is a visual feast of spoken word thanks to the design skills of Peter Moller of Egg Press Co in Calgary, Alberta.

Spoken word emulates "the best of the street" and as Wilson says, "includes the body as memory vessel, and resonator. Gesture is an important aspect for punctuation and jubilation." As tough as spoken word topics may be (racism, homophobia, poverty), there's lots of jubilation in the words and seasoned advice from this wondrous assembly of performing poets.

Spoken word can be a vehicle for your personal manifesto as it's about "taking action" and "being part of positive change." Think about Shane Koyczan's homage to Canada performed at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. His "We Are More" brought 55,000 people to their feet—and probably in homes across the world as well. His section of the book is a bit different as it is an interview with Sheri-D Wilson in which he shares his writing history and practices.

In terms of performance, Regie Cabico, a spoken word pioneer, says: "From the first line to the end of the poem you should have been transformed and so should the audience." His suggestion for a writing exercise is to write a list poem: "50 Things That Drive You Crazy." Of course, you have to be specific and avoid abstractions.

I particularly enjoyed George Elliott Clarke's suggestion to understand "your own personal dictionary." I listed nouns and came up with a unique composition. As he emphasizes, you must memorize your poem to own it and deliver it in your own style.

I'm already a fan of Hilary Peach for her own writing and performances and for being Artistic Director of the Poetry Gabriola Festival on Gabriola Island, B.C. Due to her blend of the practical and pushing-the-envelope she has presented an exciting mix of spoken word performers giving those of us who live on Canada's west coast a fabulous opportunity. Peach reminds us that we have many teachers and "a particular bench by a particular river can embody or function as a teacher's voice." It could be the bench is the teacher or the river.

Other artists include bill bissett, Anne Waldman, Cheryl L'Hirondelle, and Wendy Morton, whose adventures in promoting poetry are described in an essay. I find the words of Sheri-D Wilson like a reawakening. In her section of the book she teaches what she has learned: listen, discover your own oral tradition, dig and excavate your own story. Start with your first epiphany.

Read an excerpt from this book.

Sheri-D Wilson has published seven collections of poetry and two spoken word CDs. She is the Founder and has been Artistic Director of the Calgary Spoken Word Festival since 2003 and is the Founder and Director of the Spoken Word Program at The Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta. Visit her website. Also visit the book's website for excerpts, artist bios, and monthly updates of playful new ideas.

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