Image by Hayley Madden
Charlotte Higgins, Foyle Young Poet and SLAMbassadors winner, gives you the third August challenge – a month of exciting reading and writing tasks from Foyle Young Poets to get your teeth stuck into!
Page and performance poetry are often presented as entirely different art forms, but the gap between them is much smaller than it is often perceived to be. Although there are some differences between poetry that has been written to be read on the page and poetry that has been written to be performed, they are far more similar than different – for example, they share an emphasis on sound and rhythm – and it is entirely possible to be both a page and a performance poet. Personally, I write both page and performance poetry, and many other poets do the same.
I started off writing (what I thought resembled) page poetry in primary school, and didn’t discover performance poetry until I was 17. That summer, I went on a Villiers Park creative writing course, where one of the tutors was Luke Wright, a performance poet. Listening to his work, and to some mp3 recordings of Def Jam Poetry, was my first introduction to performance poetry, and I thought it was exciting and honest and something I wanted to try.
I had been a Commended winner in the Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award in 2010 with a page poem, and decided to try writing a performance poem to enter SLAMbassadors in 2011. I was lucky enough to win, and have done a lot of performance poetry since (as well as continuing to write page poetry). Up until that point I would never have considered myself a performance poet, but it has opened up great opportunities for me, from performing in interesting places to meeting new people, and being inspired to write much more than I might have otherwise.
Even if you’ve always written page poetry before, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have a go at performance poetry – for me, it’s been a wonderful new way to write.
With this in mind, the challenge this week is for you to write a performance poem.
Writing a poem specifically for performance involves paying more attention to the sound and rhythm of the words. To get this right, try reading the poem aloud once you’ve write it down, or even saying it out loud as you write. It’s also worth remembering that the language of performance poems tends to be slightly simpler than the language of poems written for the page, largely because someone hearing a poem spoken aloud needs to be able to follow it more quickly than someone reading a poem on the page. Devices like repetition and rhyme can be particularly effective in performance poems (although, of course, there is no right or wrong way to write a performance poem, any more than a page poem).
To get a feel for it, it’s worth listening to a performance poet reading their work, and learning from what they do. Here are a couple of good videos:
Performing poetry is, in many ways, often close to storytelling, and so the specific challenge this week is to retell a story. This could either mean rewriting a poem that you’ve previously written so that it works better in performance, or – if you want to try something different – putting a new spin on a well-known story, like a fairy tale.
Taking a simple summary of a fairy tale like Cinderella, Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty as your starting point, you can rework it by emphasising different aspects of the story, or by telling it from the perspective of a different character (like the Prince in Rapunzel, or the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella).
The poem I’ve posted above came from a similar challenge. I wrote about Cinderella after being inspired by discovering that her name came from ‘cinders’, because she would end up covered in cinders every night from sleeping beside the fireplace. Taking this association with cinders and fire as a basis, and twisting it, I wrote the poem ‘Arson’.
Submitting your poems
This challenge is now closed – you can read the wonderful poems selected by Charlotte in our New Writing section.
Charlotte Higgins is a young poet from Northern Ireland, currently studying English at Cambridge University. She is a past winner of the Poetry Society’s Foyle Young Poet of the Year Award and of SLAMbassadors, the Poetry Society’s performance poetry competition. She has worked with Poetry Parnassus Festival and as a national judge of Shake the Dust youth poetry slam, and is currently the Young Poet in Residence at the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology in Cambridge. She has performed in venues ranging from Buckingham Palace to the 100 Club, and has been commissioned to write poetry by several Cambridge University colleges. https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteHigginsPoetry