Performance poet and musician Jim Coppoc conducted a poetry writing workshop Sunday at the Laramie County Public Library in Cheyenne. Coppoc, from Ames, Iowa, is senior lecturer in English and American Indian studies at Iowa State University, and poetry and spoken word in the low residency MFA program at Chatham University.
Jim said, "Poetry is everywhere." He related this story. He asked his mom if she read poetry. "Oh no, I don't understand poetry." But when he looked around her living room, he noticed a "Chicken Soup for the Soul" poetry edition, the many Christmas cards that all had a short verse of some kind which his mother had propped open among the Christmas tree branches, and the Dr. Seuss books on the second shelf of the coffee table.
Jim's workshop focused on the musicality in poetry, from Biblical David playing the lyre while he sang his psalms to Emily Dickinson who wrote poems in musical forms. Many poets focus on the the rhythm/meter, rhyme, stanza breaks, compression, consonance and assonance.
He showed a short clip from the movie "Pinero," about New York City poet Miguel Pinero, a leader of the Nuyorican movement. Benjamin Bratt portrayed Pinero, and people who knew Pinero say Bratt did his homework. The scene was Bratt as Pinero reciting "Seekin the Cause," a riveting scene. This literary poem is backed up by musicians playing Puerto Rican music. Pinero is one of Jim's favorite poets. He has friends who were friends of Pinero.
Jim like speaking poetry, not reading it. When he writes, he speaks out loud the lines he writes, as well as when he revises. An excellent slammer, Jim says he can often be heard speaking his poems very loudly, screaming really. "Writing out loud," he calls it. He advises beginning poets in school to buy as many books as you can and read out loud.
The focus turned to where the poetry we write comes from. He talked about the influences that we grow up with and that we know first hand. Next we watched a clip of performance poet Bryann Bain, Brooklyn's own Nuyorican Grand Slam Poetry Champion. Bain is best known for his journalism. Bain wrote "Driving While Black," about his experience being arrested in New York because of racial profiling. Bryonn grew up a Muslim, became a Buddhist, and his performance encompasses lines that he sings in a chant like rhythm.
We next watched slam poet Shane Koyczan, who grew up in Yellowknife, the northernmost town in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Shane listened to classical music because when he was growing up there was no television reception and no radio stations. Shane performed a piece he wrote about Beethoven, whose music he listened to growing up. The poem describes how he "got" his music.
Next up was a Gwendolyn Brooks poem. Jim introduced the idea of writing for/about/from your tribe -- the place, culture, the people where we come from. The poem of hers he used as an example, " We Real Cool." In just eight lines, Brooks tells us who she is writing about, the bravado, the group's limited loyalty to each other, their predicament of growing up in the ghetto, the bravado and ecstatic state of being young, the bebop rhythm of the lines. She is writing for this tribe, the one-syllable words they would understand. The short lines that tell us quickly and succinctly the story of their short lives.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Of course, the sorrow of the poem is carried in the last "We" line.
So, he asked the group some questions: Who is my "We"? Who is my tribe? How does your tribe sing? What is your tribe's story? How does it begin? How does it end?
He asked us to write our tribe's poem and music. Some good work came out. Since I only have the one I wrote, I will offer it as an example.
From the city,
We drove to the mountain lodge
And stayed in one-room cabins,
These days called rustic.
My sister and I rode horses without guides
While my parents lounged lakeside
My mother's anger dissipated
To the carrying pines,
To the lake's lapping
To the small cafe where we ate fresh trout and grilled hamburgers.
One time, I fell off a horse and skidded
On flesh points of contact
Along the dirt road.
Running back to the cabin, crying and sniveling
My mother did not meet me
To nurse my wounds,
But my injuries stoked my father's anger
And we stalked down to the corral
To confront that smart-alecky wrangler.
Cowboys young and old came one night
From parts unknown to me
For the ranch party in the long boat house
Next to the dock.
Old cowboys danced with me,
A young girl not yet weathered
In their weathered arms.
My father watched them,
They keeping their hands
Suitably at mast and we danced
In that aura of celebration,
I not once noticing if my