5 things I learned from WORD! and Ramya Ramana

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A few weeks ago, WORD!, a slam poetry group founded to provide an open forum for oppressed voices, invited the 2014 Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana to come to Brown. What ensued was a series of amazing performances by Brown students, followed by Ramya performing a few of her poems. Ramya, 18, is the winner of the New York Knicks Poetry Slam, a student at St. John’s University, and an activist for equality. She has been traveling the five boroughs of New York to engage with her peers and emphasize the importance of civic engagement. She is an extremely accomplished, yet humble person who not only moved the crowd with her work, but was also moved by the poems of Brown students. Basically, she’s awesome. The performances were enlightening to say the least. Here are the five things I learned from WORD! and Ramya:

1. Nothing is off limits. The poets explored a vast range of topics in their performances.  The ten female Brown poets discussed deeply personal issues, societal problems, and comedic situations. Poems about the destruction of one’s hometown in a foreign land were followed  by poems of tantalizing love. A performance about the oppression of women in Indian society was followed by a tragicomic poem about regret. Poems of racism were followed by poems describing the vulnerability fostered by living in oppressive environments. The depth and breadth of topics covered was refreshing. It gave every audience member a lot to ponder as they wandered off to their Friday evenings.

2. Don’t be nice. Before each performance, poets would stand center stage, taking in one last breath before sharing their thoughts with a crowd full of strangers. Before they would start, audience members and fellow WORD! poets would yell “Don’t be nice!” This event was truly a safe space in which individuals were encouraged to ruthlessly analyze, criticize, and engage with their topic of choice. They shouldn’t let the fear of insulting or offending others stop them from truly expressing themselves. The sentiment behind these words was not controversial, but genuine. As long as poets spoke from their hearts, their messages would be well-received. It was a call to be honest. It is this honesty that made the poems so powerful. I learned that open communication does wonders for conveying a difficult message and for hopefully creating progress.

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Art School(ed): Things I learned from Patti Smith’s lecture

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Each year, the RISD Museum presents a legendary guest lecturer for the Gail Silver Memorial Lecture series. Past lecturers have included photographer Sally Mann, Soundsuit inventor Nick CaveNew Yorker staff cartoonist Roz Chast, conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, and feminist sculptor Lynda Benglis. This year, the lecture series’ announcement caused quite the commotion: Patti Smith was coming to Providence.

This annual lecture tends to sell out within minutes, but in some twist of fate I scored a ticket. I read Smith’s memoir Just Kids a few years ago, but remained wary of the book because of the ghostwriter rumors surrounding it. However, in the span of Patti Smith’s hour-and-45-minute lecture, I had been converted: I am now a full-fledged Patti Smith fangirl. Classic RISD student, I know.

As a memoirist, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, photographer, poet, and godmother of punk, Patti Smith knows how to command a stage. She recited her own poems, read from her memoir, and jammed out to her songs, all while maintaining a conversational tone and keeping it totally cool. She started the night off with her poem “The Lovecrafter,” as a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft and the city of Providence. But had I not known Smith’s entire curriculum vitae before seeing her speak, I would have thought that she reigned the stand-up comedy world, seeing as she cracked jokes at her old age and overall messiness throughout the lecture.

Here are the three most resonant vignettes that Patti Smith bestowed upon us at the 37th annual Gail Silver Memorial Lecture, after the jump. Continue Reading


Time-waster of the day: March 19, 2012

If you thought cat massage was weird, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Though a grown woman teaching adults how to properly satisfy their feline’s tactile desires may seem a bit unorthodox, so too is an opossum that telepathically transmits poetry about applesauce. Meet Georgette and her muse Apple, the power couple behind Proper Opposum Poetry Corner. What is it, you ask? A performance poetry segment involving two drums, a sweater-clad opossum and some cubes of cheese. Apple really steals the show around the 2:30 mark with her incredible drum solo, but, not one to be outdone by an oversized rodent, Georgette soon reclaims the spotlight a minute later.

If you enjoy what you see, remember you can always “write that poem about the opposum in your life” and post it to the comments section of the YouTube page. Does anyone have a pen?


Poetry on the Spot in JWW


I’m tired of Facebook,
Through with Youtube
What, I now wonder
What should I do?

I know! I’ll check out
BlogDailyHerald
See if there are postings
By my good friend ol’ Gerald

Info, reviews,
Sports, and more
V-Dub vs. Ratty
And much campus lore

I’ll check it each day
For Brown campus news
I’ve found a new obsession
To fight midterm blues

Writers’ Group is setting up shop in J. Walter Wilson every day this week from 11 ’til 2, bringing us fresh, personalized poetry.  This student group, supported by the Swearer Center, helps developmentally disabled adults in the Blackstone Valley Industries by leading weekly creative writing workshops that serve as forums for self-expression. At the end of the year, participants’ works are compiled into an anthology. Through Friday, Writers’ Group is raising money to fund the anthologies so that every participant gets one. Find their table in the JWW lobby, give them a subject, and they’ll go to town. Most poems will only set you back a buck, but be warned: the likes of sonnets and sestinas run for a bit more. Surprise your friends with a goofy free verse, send a venomous haiku anonymously to your ex, or profess your love for that hot econ TA in the form of a personalized poem–the possibilities are endless. Go explore them and help a good cause while you’re at it.


MIT ≠ Poetry

Einstein believed in poetry.

Last week, an editorial appeared on MIT’s newspaper lamenting the cut of the university’s Advanced Poetry Workshop due to financial restraints. And we rather agree — especially if, instead of continuing the poetry class, MIT is deciding to offer a class on “Communicating With Mobile Technology.” Really, MIT? A class on how to text and use Twitter? Instead of poetry!?

Clearly there are some (apparently the administrators of MIT) who can argue a scientist doesn’t need to know how to conjure lyrical verse in the engineering lab. Yet, the MIT editorial makes the very bold claim that “poetry, as long as man could string words together into longer, more involved metaphors and language-pictures, has been the remedy for our dumbness.” Maybe  Einstein can provide a more  eloquent (or poetic?) defense for the study of verse — “pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.”  That’s right, MIT. If soon-to-be-scientists are able to study how to communicate with their buddies over Facebook, they should at least be offered a class to practice the art of poetry.