Creative Advice from Spoken Word Poet Sarah Kay

The Domino Project, founded by Seth Godin, is about reimagining publishing in the twenty-first century.  Last week under the title Why publish poetry? The Domino Project introduced Sarah Kay to those of us who hadn’t heard of her.  Living up to the idea of using new media to spread ideas, the posting included a YouTube video of Sarah Kay at TED, where she earned not one but two standing ovations. Her presentation was a demonstration of her first love, spoken word poetry, followed by a talk about making spoken word poetry.

Kay, it turns out, is not only a remarkable poet, but has taken it as her mission to teach and encourage others to make spoken word poetry. The majority of her presentation was about this aspect of her career. As I listened to her, I realized that what she was saying not only applied to spoken word poetry, but to any creative undertaking, irrespective of the medium. And it is valuable advice—probably as important as her poetry.

Kay notes that her poems are for her a way of learning and “figuring things out;” I think this approach to creating may be true of a number of artists. She says that artists should bring all they know to bear on the project at hand, “gathering up all the knowledge and experience you’ve collected up to now to help you dive into the things you don’t know.” Of herself, she says, “I show up to each new poem with a backpack full of everywhere else I’ve been.”

A second thing that Kay teaches is how to get to the poem. She uses a list-making exercise as a springboard for creativity. This exercise often takes the form, “list of 10 things you know to be true” or, in one case, “list of 10 things you should have learned by now.” One has the feeling that she has hundreds of list possibilities. In any case, the lists can be compared to the lists of others, or simply used as a way to discover an interesting story or idea, which in this case, can result in an interesting poem, or for those of us who are not poets (yet), an interesting painting or play or photograph or dance or sculpture or novel. It is truly an inspired creative tool, even for those who, like one of Kay’s students, think they don’t have anything interesting to say.

Another thing that Kay believes and tries to pass along to others is her belief that each artist is unique. “I’m trying to tell stories only I can tell.”  Then she combines the ideas of utilizing things you know to be true and allowing yourself to be unique. She says this of one of her students, Charlotte: “By putting the things she knows to be true into the work she’s doing, she can created poems that only Charlotte can write.”

All you have to do is take that statement, change the pronouns to “I,” change “poems” to whatever your art is, plug in your name instead of Charlotte’s, and you have a mantra that you can live by, at least artistically speaking.

Kay’s last piece of advice for artists is one that we have all heard before: “grow and explore and take risks.” But you have the feeling that when Kay says it, she not only means it, she lives by it. Perhaps we too can use her words to guide our artistic lives.



Date: Monday, 5. December 2011 0:08
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Originality

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