Award-winning poet, short story author and Writers’ Program instructor Rachel Kann talks with us about her NEW fall quarter performance poetry course, Out Loud: Performance Poetry, Hip Hop, and More (Online). This course is the first of its kind here at the Wp’! If you’ve taken our other poetry courses (or even if you haven’t) you may love this unique opportunity to take your poetic creations to unexplored territory.

Writers’ Program: You’ve been teaching poetry courses for the Writers’ Program for several years. What can new and returning students expect from your new spoken word course, “Out Loud”?

Rachel Kann: This course is unique as far as online courses in poetry go, at least to the best of my knowledge. This is an online leaning opportunity to share and learn and grow as a spoken word performer. Assignments will be turned in as online links to Youtube files, which can contain either audio or video. Spoken word will be a broad genre used to encompass poems as well as storytelling and songwriting. The students are only required to post work in genres they are comfortable with. We will have guest posts from spoken word luminaries Patricia Smith, Sage Francis, and Paulie Lipman, exploring how they craft their own work.

Wp’: Students may be wondering how a spoken word class works online. How will students participate in this genre in an online course format?

RK: Students will participate by posting a Youtube link to their weekly assignment. The assignment can be either audio or video. Then, students will workshop the work of their fellow spoken word artists by providing them with feedback in the form of written posts in our online classroom workshop forum.

The upshot is that what the student needs is access to technology. All of the requirements for the class can be done from your average smartphone, as well as from a computer at a public library, for those on a budget. The student will need to be able to record themselves performing their piece, and then post it to the internet.

Wp’: Tell us more about this genre of writing. What do you love about spoken word? Why might our students enjoy this genre?

RK: Spoken word provides an immediacy of experience, and it’s exciting to see how new technologies affect the way messages are brought across to the world. Students might enjoy it because of its contemporary yet timeless flavor. Spoken word is a large and all-encompassing category that I prefer to give as wide a berth as possible. What is Spoken Word? It is performance poetry, like that of the Beat Poets. It is Hip Hop, like KRS-One. It is creative nonfiction memoir, like the live performances given by David Sedaris. It is testimonial, like the preaching of Martin Luther King Jr. It is standup comedy and it is confessional, like the work of Carrie Fisher. It is heightened language. It is written with care, and then it is spoken aloud. In this workshop, we will widen the scope even further, to encompass words that are not just spoken, but also sung, so that songwriters will have a place in the workshop as well.

Wp’: How is spoken word different from poetry?

RK: Hopefully, it’s not. I plan on holding my students accountable for their writing, i.e. being impeccable with their word, to quote Don Miguel Ruiz. I don’t believe quality should backslide because a poem is presented in an auditory fashion.

Wp’: I’m not a poet? Can I learn spoken word?

Of course! Spoken word is not just what is traditionally considered “poetic” (although, in true genre-busting fashion, I hope we can expand this category as well.) Spoken word is not pretentious or highfalutin. My goal is for poetry and spoken word to make the ineffable accessible, rather than obfuscate meaning. I want spoken word to provide a visceral experience for the viewer and listener.

Wp’: What does your process look like when you sit down to write?

RK: A prayer, a deep breath, and a nosedive.

Rachel is teaching Out Loud: Performance Poetry, Hip Hop, and More (Online) this fall, starting October 10th. For more information call (310) 825-9415.

Alicia Wheeler is the Program Assistant for Creative Writing (Online). 

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