What Do You Do with the Words?

They come tumbling like a Northwestern rainfall, steady on in the gray of slumber.

Words that wake you, force you to fumble in the dark, grab a pencil, not a pen that might fail,

Sit in the dark bathroom on the cold toilet seat, scribble

Perhaps the best poem of your life…

Then what?  Just another poem in scarcely readable downward slanting lines that you try to reassemble sometime after dawn.  Or you forget and months later wonder what insights have been lost to dreamtime.

When at last a poem pulls itself together, finds it shoes and socks and pulls up its pants and slings on a red jacket with that hot pink beret, then what?  Do you dare trot it down to Village Books for an open mic?  Or does it lie there, inert, lifeless in a stack of siblings?

Braving an audience, your insides still trembling, you know that one word must be changed, your rhythm needs to shift, you must allow the audience time to hear the subtext.  You learn by reading aloud, not to your kitchen sink but to real people, alive eyes watching your mouth open, revealing something they can never see if you pass in the aisle at Fred Meyer.

Now what?  Now is the time to amp it up a bit, own your words, trust all the work that came before.  Be aware of your gesture, you projection, your energy.  Time to perform the poem.

This morning I drove through soft March rain to Allied Arts in Bellingham to attend a workshop, Poetry as Performance Art, taught by Matthew Brouwer.  Wow.  Just what I needed to focus on the next step.


Matthew Brouwer recites Performance Poetry at Poets Across Borders, Richmond, BC

Matthew talked about the spectrum between a Literary Reading and a Theatrical Performance and that fine point of balance in between that he calls the “Sweet Spot.”  If you’ve heard him perform or read, you’ll know it’s a delicate high wire act holding the tension between these two extremes.

He showed videos of two poets:  Billy Collins and Buddy Wakefield to demonstrate the extremes of style and quoted Seattle performance word performance artist Roberto Ascalon with this guideline:  “Read a poem as you would a jazz score.”

Matthew offers a safe space to discover your own inner voice, to open and allow the listener to engage in the depth of the spoken words.

I think all authors who read aloud to an audience would benefit from his insights.

AND I say keep an eye on Matthew Brouwer.  Remember his name.  What?  Five years, maybe, he’ll be Washington’s Poet Laureate.