Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Slam Champion Regie Cabico in Class

Last Friday, Paideia had a slammin' day in 4 different High School literature classes, thanks to slam poetry champions Regie Cabico and Joanna Hoffman. Both were in town for the weekend's Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, and the library brought them to school for in-class workshops for Marianne, Thrower and Joseph's students.

Regie is a poet, spoken word artist and playwright who has won top prizes in national poetry slams. His work is included in the anthologies Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and Spoken Word Revolution: Slam, Hip Hop and the Poetry of a New Generation.

Crushed that I had to be in Charlotte at the AASL conference, I asked the teachers to let me know how it went. Rather than paraphrase, I give you a workshop session in the teacher's own words. I can see the class in my mind -- can you?
Regie Cabico visited my class last Friday, and leading up to it, he told me that he does all kinds of workshops and has recently worked with kids in Bellvue Hospital. He started off with very high energy, almost as if he were walking on stage in a show. It wasn't off-putting at all, because you got the sense that he was being there with you. He talked a little about himself, his Filipino background, and how he came to poetry, and poetry slams. He was unabashedly gay, but this fact was not used as anything other than that this was who he was and why he was in Atlanta.

Without consulting any text or script, he then launched into a performance of a piece about checking the box called Other when one has to fill out certain forms. His language was incredibly rich with metaphor. I remember one near the end, when after talking about all of the cultural influences he has absorbed (and by extension, I assume, many Americans have experienced the same), he said something like, "How do you expect me to fit all of this into one small box that 'not even a Thumbelina-thin diva' could fit her toe in?"

At one point, he told me that he saw spoken-word art as "3 minute solo plays." And as a teacher, his job is to elicit people's stories from them.

After doing only maybe 3 total pieces, he switched from performer to teacher. He got the kids to make "a list of 50 things that you hate. It can be people, moments, foods, anything. . . But make it specific. " After few minutes of that, he said, now you can switch to things that you love, that turn you on. It didn't matter that we didn't get 50; it was just an incentive to put down bunches.

He invited people to read their lists, and then celebrated them all by having everyone clap. Then without pause , he said, "Now, I want you to write a poem with every line starting 'I have the urge to. . .' and if you want to, you can use the lists that you just made."

After 4-5 minutes, he again invited students to read, making sure that he encouraged others than the first few who volunteered, who happened to be the same ones who volunteered the first time. He said that the first reader would be the teacher. I gamely complied. Each reader was invited up to stand in front of the group, was greeted by applause (Regie playing MC) and then was appreciated by applause when finished.

The kids really liked it; they told me so the next day. They enjoyed the excitement and energy, and they all liked the work of their peers, some of which was really touching, really fun, really serious.

Joanna Hoffman came to school set to do one class in the morning. It was such a success that the teacher called me in Charlotte to ask, please, could Joanna do another class later in the day? Sweet news! Of course she could.

We've got ideas kicking around for more performance poetry events for next year, but that's a long time away. For now, a thousand thanks to Regie and Joanna -- great artists and wonderful people. Let's meet in person someday!

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