The Art of Performance Poetry with A Lively Writer’s Group

Performing spoken word poetry.

Performing spoken word poetry.

Yesterday morning, after an early and fairly quiet drive to Winnetka, Illinois, I went to the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop to be featured with a discussion focused on my ” The Seven Elements of Performance Poetry.” The group was very lively, and interested in what I had to share and to say about my techniques as a seasoned spoken word poet.

I put together a defined workshop that spoke to each element – available as a Word document if you’re interested in viewing it. I was concerned about not having enough material to carry me through, but that quickly vanished when the lively group of seasoned writers and literary enthusiasts began asking me questions about my knowledge of performance poetry and/or Slam poetry.

The questions carried us through most of the first half of our electric conversation. I am glad that I have been performing as long as I have, and was prepared with a memory of what it takes to be a performance poet. The questions they asked kept me on my toes!

I learned of the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop through a local poet’s husband during a conversation we had at an event where his visual art was on display, and where her and my poetry was featured in a live reading in downtown Rockford. I remembered the name of the group and went home and found their website. I reached out to them expressing my interest in being a presenter. I shared what I could present and it was accepted.

The Seven Elements of Performance Poetry is my go to workshop for highlighting my tactics as a spoken word poet on stage. It consists of pieces of knowledge and information that I feel will help any poet seeking to become a performance poet – which, as I explained to the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop group, is taking written poetry to the stage.

The group consisted mostly of women who listened intensely and made sure they asked the right questions. Performance poetry is not simple, and I believe only the brave poets want to take their writing to the level of performing and reciting it.

I have been performing since the late 90s as a spoken word artist. My early start was in Memphis, TN at the former Sidewalk University in midtown Memphis. I remember that first experience like it was yesterday. Going to an open mike to share my poetry live was something I had never done. It was a new genre for me. Although I had performed as a budding rapper at my elementary school in the mid 80s, there was something different about reciting poetry to a group of people I didn’t know. Later on, after learning about the weekly open mike at the former Precious Cargo in downtown Memphis, I become hooked and haven’t looked back since.

Years later, here I am in Winnetka, Illinois at the Off Campus Writers’ Workshop sharing what I have learned all of these years. I have come full circle as a spoken word poet. I am glad I had the opportunity to showcase that there with that lively and kindred group of writers and literary enthusiasts!

I hope to get back there some time, even if it is just to listen to them and learn about what they are doing with their writing. Happy National Poetry Month! May the muse be with you!

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The Life of a Bullet Entering Black and Brown Flesh – A Poem by Christopher D. Sims

That bullet, that dreadful, heartless bullet
started off in a racist southerner’s rifle
p
ointed at a runaway slave, who was
on the run. Entering his chest cavity, it
had nothing to stop it. That bullet was
dipped in hatred and steeped in envy:
a bullet whose soul was empty, empty.

That bullet, that dreadful, heartless bullet
found its way up north inside the gun of
a police officer patrolling the south side of
Chicago. Still filled with hatred, not a moment
was wasted, before it found itself tearing through
the flesh of a young black male. Sending him
to “hell”, as the cop suggested. He wasn’t
even arrested. The community was restless –
wondering where the bullet would end up next.

That bullet, that dreadful, heartless bullet,
wound up in Oakland, California years later
chasing after brown flesh. Angrily traveling
through barrios searching for more flesh to
puncture. Inside the 45 of a bigot inflamed
by “illegal immigration”, that bullet cut down
a young brown girl, cutting down a nation.

Bullets have no feelings, care about no one’s
name or humanity.

Bullets take orders, are sent to create pain.

The pain that is with us now as we remember
countless faces who are the victims of the
heartlessness behind those bullets that are
finding their way into innocent flesh.

Where will the bullet end up next?

Where will the bullet end up next?

© Christopher D. Sims
2014

Bullets Image 

 

 

A Reflection: Participating in New York City’s “Day of Anger” March for Millions

This was the third march that I attended this year in regards to the injustices that have been done unto Black women and men in the United States. As I marched for blocks and blocks in the most racially diverse city on the planet, it made me proud to continue to be a part of a movement that feels old and new.

I say old and new because we have been marching for years in this country. The 1960s were pivotal times that influence and guide what is going on today here in the United States. We are marching in St. Louis, New York City, Rockford, Illinois, Chicago, Illinois, Portland, Oregon, and all across the land with a connection to earlier movements that were ripe with injustice and racial tension.

Thousands and thousands of people are fighting against a system that has not ended like we want it to, like we need it to. Even in the cold in New York City I felt just as connected to this modern-day civil rights movement as I did at the “a Weekend of Resistance” march that took place in St. Louis in October. The urge is there. We shout “shut it down” and “hands up don’t shoot”with urgency that is not going anywhere any time soon. I have a feeling that just like the marches in the 1960s, these current marches will help bring about a change that is desperately needed. Institutional racism should have been on its way out years and years ago.

We will need laws to change in order for a drastic change to take place, however. Laws will have to change that honestly protect black and brown people in a way that will be effective for years to come. We will need to start on the grassroots level focusing on local laws that have given the police the power to do what they have done to countless innocent people. Those laws being changed can come through the energy and urgency of these marches and protests we are participating in. If you know of any laws that are being written or worked on to help protect innocent people from dying at the hands of law enforcement, please let me know.

We are connected and marching, making new friends, and making improvements in the way activists, organizers, and planners have done things over the years to help make these marches and protests happen.

Social media a great tool just the same. I find myself being not only a person that is showing up at marches, protects and vigils, but also being an “arm-chair activist.”

New York City’s “Day of Anger” march definitely contained justifiable anger as we loudly protested against law enforcement. It felt strange as we marched those long New York City blocks saying things like “Hey hey, Ho ho! Those racist police have got to go!” They were on every corner watching us watching them. They looked comfortable in their positions and unmoved by rhetoric aimed directly at them. That’s the way things will be as we make it known all across the United States that we’re tired of what’s going on, and they are some of the biggest reasons why.

I heard drums and I saw children marching with their parents. Just like in Ferguson I saw the youth being the loudest and most determined in the NYC “Day of Anger” march. I felt moved and I participated in call and response, just like I did in St. Louis. I hope we continue to organize these marches and protests and be heard in the United States and across the globe.

A friend of mine who lives in London told me the world is watching. With those eyes on us, we can lead the change in regards to mass incarceration and the senseless deaths of black and brown people. The world needs to see us do so.

We have much work to do and some catching up to do when it comes to equality and justice. Let us be angry enough to continue to march, protest, and plan for more actions that will create the kind of country where we will no longer mourn for young people of color who died at the hands of the police.