Said Poets Society

So, by now you should know that I’m a teacher and a poet. As such, it probably seems a little weird that I invited four poets into my classroom today to teach my students for me, because, of all the things I teach, surely poetry should be something I’m fairly comfortable in working with. It’s coin like though. On one side, some students find the excitement and enjoyment I derive from poetry to be infectious but on the flip side, it can also be a reason students switch off – prompting responses of “of course you like this, you write the stuff” or “you make it look so easy but when I try to write nothing comes out”.

The Said Poets Society care about telling good stories. Stories change the way people think about the world, and we believe that to inspire positive action, we first have to inspire positive thinking. We run performance poetry workshops in Perth high schools to equip young people to make positive change in their lives and communities through the power of stories.

If you look at their website, I didn’t have the ‘traditional’ line-up for the Said Poets. In a way I won out because I had four poets (Matt and Ben were joined by Sam Needs and Jakob Boyd) when I was expecting three but it was slightly disappointing that Athena couldn’t attend; I’m always looking for new poets to follow and her absence meant I still haven’t had a chance to hear her work – plus, it would have been good to have a female voice in the room. Ben might have made up for this somewhat when he explained that feminism is a topic he resonates with, a point he made through a pun filled PowerPoint. His take on equality and toxic masculinity would have sat well with much of the class, especially with some of the boys who share similar interests and have faced similar situations to those Ben described.

It was Matt who opened proceedings, explaining the group’s ethos and sharing some verse. His opening poem is listed on YouTube but it was his poem about mental health that had the room captivated. At its core this poem told the story of Matt’s high school friend who suicided but it was eased in with such finesse that, at poem’s end, it’s hard to believe you were laughing at fedora-wearing men only minutes before. The word STORY was an important factor. Matt stressed the importance of the narrative but the group’s mission statement is to give students the opportunity to voice their own story (and not just the story society tells them).

I’m actually struggling to decide what my highlight was. It could be any of the following:

  • Ben’s private comment to me that “you were right, they are a good group”
  • that the Said Poets worked to my schedule and were happy to run their four week program over two weeks instead.
  • that Jakob remembered the name of the poem I recited at a mini-slam back in March.
  • Matt and Ben mouthing along to a video of Harry Baker performing “Paper People”.
  • the sight of my students writing. ALL of my students. Even the slackers and those low in confidence.
  • that the students were praised for their honesty in their writing.
  • that I walk away from today with a new writing prompt, a game to play when teaching metaphor and four approaches to writing slam poetry.
  • that one of my students currently on a D for English spent an hour in the library after school reading poetry; or
  • that I have four or five ideas for new poems that I now feel compelled to write.

I can’t wait until next week when the students refine and perform what they’ve written.

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Book Reviews: Bo Burnham and Harry Baker

It’s funny. I write poetry and I read poetry but my two favourite anthologies are probably more geared to people with verse aversion than those who love it. More to the point, they’re just so damn approachable you almost forget you’re reading poetry.

The first book I want to talk up is Egghead by Bo Burnham.

This was a gift from an ex-student who has been fantastically supportive of my own writing. I remember sitting on the couch reading it the night I got it and cackling away at the hilarity therein – I even took photos of some of my favourite poems and sent them to people. Like this one…

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That’s not to say it didn’t have serious content within its pages, it’s just that you had to want to see the seriousness. It’s easy to get caught up in the various swear word, sex imagery and the occasional bum or poo joke. The message behind this one is pretty clear:

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But this one requires a little thought or engagement to register that it can be read as a comment on Western civilisation’s obsession with beauty and the detrimental effects it has on the self-esteem of young girls in particular.

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Tho whole book is full of this sort of stuff. I messaged the ex-student as soon as I was finished reading but the very next thing I did was hit up Bo’s YouTube channel.

The next poet I found via online videos first and then I bought his book. Harry Baker is a phenomenal talent. Don’t take my word for it – watch this video and then come back. It’s okay, I’ll wait. Go ahead.

See!!!

“Paper People” was the poem that got me hooked. It’s highly alliterative and uses a number of other sound devices to comment on human nature and society’s ills. It’s a serious poem dressed up in the silliness of a tongue-twister reminiscent of “The Purple People Eater”.

There’s real silliness in The Sunshine Kid too…

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What I like most is that Harry sprinkles autobiographical passages between his poems, explaining what he was doing at the time he wrote them or explaining his inspiration. He also introduced me to the idea of a Haiku Deathmatch. I knew of poetry slams (which Harry Baker humorously defines as “a way of tricking people into coming to poetry nights” by putting “an exciting word like slam on the end”) but a Haiku Deathmatch was something I never knew existed.

For me, what makes this collection worthwhile is that it’s full of everyday experiences that are never normally covered in ‘serious’ anthologies (like playing video games).

So, if you like words and you’re looking for something new to read, get your hands on these two books. You won’t regret it.

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Superhero Sonnets

As a writer, there’s always a couple of ideas floating around in my head. These jostle for supremacy and the victor enjoys the benefits of being written into completion (unless there’s a coup, in which case the battle begins anew). The latest victor was a series of sonnets written about superheroes.

I’ve always had a fascination with myths and legends which developed into a love of superheroes when I was a teen. Since becoming a writer (and teacher) the sonnet is a form I find myself drawn to; combining these interests seemed like a logical course to follow.

I started by listing some of the heroes I thought I might encapsulate in this way:

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You’ll have to excuse the terrible hand writing and photo quality.

Anyway, then I brainstormed my first hero; Spider-man.

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The next pic will show my first draft. What it can’t show is the amount of lines I rehearsed on my fingers, counting syllables as I went, before they hit the paper.

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This is pretty much how most of my poetry begins. Some of it is simply stream-of-consciousness but the more ‘important’ poems are planned first and often spoken before they are put on the page.

I’ve written two superhero sonnets now (one last night – Spider-Man, one tonight – Batman) and I’ve thrown these two on images even though I haven’t finalised them yet. Mostly I’ve done this because sometimes I like to share things before I refine them so I get a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

If you want to find them, these two images can be found on my new Facebook page or on Twitter.

Happy reading!