Friday, November 13, 2009

Performance Poet Joanna Hoffman in Class

The other half of last Friday's "Regie and Joanna Show" was 2007 DC/Baltimore Grand Slam Champion Joanna Hoffman. At first Joanna was only going to do one class workshop in the morning, but the teacher was so impressed and excited by the class that Joanna stayed on to do another workshop later in the day.
Joanna used poetry of her own and other slam poets to illustrate the diverse styles and ideas presented in slam poetry. Her first poems "Anti-Love Love Poem" and "Why Do I Like You?" struck personal chords with the kids because they both looked at the foibles of love and ended with lessons of humanity and acceptance, which the kids could relate to and understand. The kids participated and read slam poems that she provided and the classes discussed the characteristics of slam poetry such as exploration of the inner self, less structure with a casual conversational tone that makes it appealing. We ended the session with a mock poetry slam.

My favorite poem was about her mother's struggle with breast cancer, which revealed Joanna's impatience with her mother's attempts to always keep Joanna safe as a child, cautious to an annoying level. By the end of the poem, Joanna concludes that perhaps her mother was right to always be cautious because cancer took her by surprise and maybe there is always something lurking in us waiting to hurt us and change our lives. It began with the simple mother-daughter vexations and ended poignantly with Joanna's understanding and grief over her mother's fight.

I came away from the sessions with a new respect for slam poetry and the performers -- not only do they write their own poetry, but they recite and enhance with a performance. One kid commented after reading a poem, "the written poetry is not anything like the poetry that comes out on stage." Others commented that Joanna was "quiet but transformed when she performed her poetry." I saw that change also and was so glad the kids picked up on it.

She did not just come here to perform but to teach and expose as well, which struck me and showed her passion for her art.

One of my favorite lines was from a poem called "Enough" by Andrea Gibson, "I want to live my life like a little league game -- I don't care if I win."

It was a big week for poetry-loving students, who had the opportunity to hear former Poet Laureate Richard Wilbur on Wednesday and Thursday, to hear and perform poetry with Joanna and Regie on Friday, and attend a Slam Poetry Showcase in Decatur on Saturday. Thank you, Joanna, for bringing your art to Paideia.

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