Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Sunday, August 4, 2013


    No, we're not talking about buying dictionaries.  Rather, it's about the next craze in poetry, combining the elements of a workshop with those of a spoken word open microphone (hence the alternative term:  "shopmiking").  As you may know, most open mikes are organized by writers groups.  Many of these involve a guest speaker, followed by time-limited (typically, 3-minutes long) performances by anyone who cares/dares to sign up and step onstage.  End of event.

     The wordshop involves a 5-10 minute "tip" (they assiduously avoid the term "lesson") from an experienced poet.  Then there are performances:  usually an open mike but it may be a slam (if only to show members how one operates) or a themed recital (e.g. perform your favorite poem by someone else).  At the end of the evening one of the participants volunteers to be "The Guinea Pig".  This involves performing their piece again, this time with on-the-fly advice from an acting coach.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #66
     "Stop!  Try that again, but slower."

     "Not so loud, let the microphone do it's job."

     "Talk to us, not at us."

     "We need more gesture here."

     Because the purpose is educational, the wordshop is usually organized by a university or an unusually energetic geek.  Because many attendees may be underaged students, venues tend to be unlicensed.  Book store restaurants are popular choices.  Budgets can be as low as $0 if enough volunteers can be gathered.

     With permissions, the tip and the performances could be videotaped and posted on YouTube.   In theory at least, the project involves all corners of the poetry world:  technicians and academics can do the initial advice/tip phase, the students participate in the open mic, the slammers and performance crowd can be the coaches, and the Internet crowd can, if it chooses, contribute in response to the YouTube recordings.

     My favorite human being is involved in organizing one of these.  His tip themes were, in chronological order starting with the first month's:

  1. Definition of poetry

         Verbatim.  Memorable speech.  Seems like a sensible place to start.

  2. Performance

         Techniques common to any poetry performance.

  3. Diaeresis

         "WTF?"  I think they were trying to show how obscure some techniques are and how these little things add up.

  4. Slam

         Rules and expectations peculiar to slams.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #62
     Organizing a wordshop is easy once you have a site and, hey, what restaurant wouldn't want to be filled to capacity at 7:00 P.M. once a month?  If you can't find volunteers willing to render tips do a little research and you'll have a topic in no time.  Once you have these things in place pick a date, put the word out in a few high schools and colleges, tell the existing open mike and writers community, and you're ready to go.

     Expect a crowd.

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