I’m not going to lie to you, I got here sort of by accident. Well, at least, initially. I did a lot of theatre and this thing called speech in high school (which is literally just competitive speaking, kind of like slam, except it had more rules), so I was already sucked into the whole performing deal. I also had pretty bad depression, and I wrote poems in high school in lieu of self-harm. (Don’t worry, the poems were terrible, but they got me through). As to slam specifically, I watched half a season of BNV before my first year of college and thought to myself, “Self, you’ve seen some shit, and it appears that there are entire groups of people out there who have also seen some shit.” And then the angels sang to me, and I went and wrote some shit. And believe me, it was shit. Purely and utterly, but someone from the Macalester Poetry slam must have seen me and said, “This one. Let’s polish this turd.” So I edited my poems for hours each week preparing for the Grand Slam, writing and rewriting and changing words (which is the definition of editing, but this sentence needed to be longer for a more epic build-up). And lo and behold! I made the CUPSI (College Union Poetry Slam Invitational) team for Mac, and now I run the Macalester Poetry slam and have won stuff and been on NPS teams and have a chapbook like a real adult and all sorts of exciting things.
Ollie Renee Schminkey is a genderqueer poet/activist who is the director of the Macalester Poetry Slam and (as an official Word Sprout collaborator) the founder of Well-Placed Commas, a weekly poetry workshop created to serve the needs of the Twin Cities area. They have competed on the nationally ranked MacSlams CUPSI team for two years, competed on 2 Twin Cities NPS teams, placed 2nd at the 2013 Great Plains Poetry Pile-Up, and competed twice with the Macalester team at Rustbelt. They have also performed and published work with 20% Theatre Company's The Naked I: Insides Out, and they tour locally with this show. They are the author of one chapbook, The Taste of Iron, and they have work being published in September 2014 as a part of Write Bloody and Andrea Gibson's anthology, "We Will Be Shelter." They have featured at venues and events such as Button Poetry’s Birthday Bash, Rachel McKibben's Poetry and Pie Night, Slam Free or Die, Port Veritas, Mama's Crowbar, Zeke Russell's New Shit Show, OUTspoken!, Intermedia Arts, and Patrick's Cabaret. You can check out what’s up with them at their website: http://ollieschminkey.weebly.com/
Five Things I’m Excited About
1. Becoming solvent again.
I wasn’t trying to be a full time artist during the recession, but I did make the mistake of starting my own grant writing business a month before the stock market crashed. This did not work out. Getting back into wage slavedom was not easy, but I’m finally working forty decent paying hours a week again at two good nonprofit organizations. I have less time, obviously, and often less energy, but I no longer take for granted the amazing creativity boost that comes from being able to pay my own bills.
2. My blog on writing, creative practice and performance.
If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.
I have an ongoing problem with authority figures – in art and in life. That’s one reason I make a better Buddhist than a Christian. My dad once asked me if I thought Buddha was my Savior – and I said No, dad, that’s kind of the point.
So nothing I am going to say here is in any way authoritative. That’s right. You can just pass me on the road, nod politely, and find someone else to kill.
I’m tenth in line in this blog residency, and each person so far has given good advice based on his or her own knowledge and experience of writing and performance. Whether they are “tricks of the trade” or not depends on how you view advice.
If you want to work on your art, work on your life. – Anton Chekhov
I began telling stories to conceal the truth – from myself and from others – and to reveal it to the same tough crowd. Life can get complicated. Stories help us navigate ambivalence, ambiguity, and… whatever else that Scarlet Letter stands for.
I had been married sixteen years, and for twelve of those years to an Episcopal clergyman. We met in graduate school in the Department of English at the University of Minnesota, got married, then moved from Minneapolis to Chicago so he could go to seminary, and from there to Michigan for his parish work. We started a family. It was a happy time in many, many ways– though the plans I had had for a teaching career (with my highly marketable doctorate in Victorian Religious Literature) had taken a back seat to parenting and a technical writing job at Ford Motor Company that helped pay the bills.
Paula Reed Nancarrow is a writer and performer of personal and historical narratives, as well as folk tales and myths, that reflect the texture and complexity of family and community life, the blessings and betrayals to be found therein. The tension between intimacy and autonomy is a key theme in her work.
Paula has performed in a number of Twin Cities venues, including Cheap Theatre at the Black Forest, The Moth Story Slam at the Amsterdam Bar in St. Paul (and the first Moth Grand Slam at the Fitzgerald Theater), Word Spout's StorySlamMN! at Kieran's Bar, and Tellabration!(TM) at Open Book, which she organized for five years. She has performed in four Minnesota Fringe Festivals, including one solo show, and has taken her work outside Minnesota to perform at Northlands Storytelling Network and the National Storytelling Network annual conferences.
Paula spent nearly a decade on and off the board of Story Arts of Minnesota, a nonprofit that has been promoting storytelling and developing and supporting storytellers since 2000. Currently she makes her living writing grant proposals and reports, telling the organizational stories of two Minneapolis nonprofits. She blogs and shares her stories at http://paulareednancarrow.com. If you don’t mind heavy tweeting, follow her @prnancarrow.
I thought about starting this off trying to be humble, and generally I do feel weird talking about and promoting myself, but part of the job of being a writer is endlessly convincing others that your work is worth their time, so here goes: the bulk of my work touring happens during the school year, as I mainly do shows at colleges, so I will spend this summer finishing new work and new merchandise. My new album is approaching completion, and I think it’s pretty good. It’s going to be called Northbound, and you will be able to buy it on iTunes in short order. I am also working on a new book (that has yet to be titled. If you think of any great titles please drop me a line) that will come out this fall and will also be good. I am also working on producing t-shirts, posters, and other assorted cool stuff that you will be able to buy from www.buttonpoetry.com. If you want to know about when those things come out you should like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. My name is @neilicorn because of reasons.
In terms of things that aren’t me, you should buy Hieu Minh Nguyen’s book This Way to the Sugar, which came out recently on Write Bloody Publishing. If you don’t buy it, you don’t like poetry. I would apologize for saying that, but I’m not sorry.
Finally, me again, poetry is my job and I will be touring all over the country this fall. I love performing at colleges, high schools, theaters, festivals, bars, and weird basements, so if you are interested in having me come to any of those places and do poems, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This blog has been super fun, I love you, goodnight.
I wish I could say there were some trick to being a successful writer, but as far as I’ve seen, there really isn’t a shortcut. Writing, like everything else, requires that you work your ass off. My mantra goes like this: Editing Is Writing. Some people will tell you that they don’t edit. Their first drafts are so raw and emotional that they perfectly express what they are supposed to, and those people are wrong. First, nothing you ever produce will be perfect, so let go of perfection because chasing it will only hurt you. I stole that line from my therapist who was saying it about having OCD, but it applies here and, tip number two, to a writer, everything is connected. Anyway, the best thing I did for myself as a poet was find a group of editors I trusted implicitly and give them all of my poems, even if they were awful. Nowadays I don’t seriously compete with anything that hasn’t been through at least ten drafts. Hell, the poem doesn’t even start to look like its final form before the fifth draft, and the first round of edits is just a bloodbath: I end up keeping four lines at the absolute most, and this happens until I’ve kept enough lines to constitute an actual structure for an actual poem. There are maybe too many violent metaphors in slam poetry, but here’s another one: kill your darlings. The line that you love the most and feel the most personal connection to is probably the one that is holding your poem back. Lose it, and then you can say what you’re actually trying to say.
My first favorite book was Moo Baa Fa La La by Sandra Boynton. The book starts, “The cow says moo, the sheep says baa. Three singing pigs say fa la la.” So I guess you could say that I’ve always loved poetry. I entered college knowing that I wanted to major in creative writing, poetry specifically, but I only knew of slam poetry as a punchline to the joke “What has three legs and yells for three minutes straight?” (It’s a slam poet on a microphone. Not a good joke.) One day, at a meeting of my literary magazine Thistle, Dylan Garity showed up with a slam poem to workshop. He stood up and performed a poem that was, admittedly, terrible, but he performed it with such conviction that I couldn’t help but pay attention. He founded the Macalester Poetry Slam, I helped run the shows and the organization, we decided to go to the College National Poetry Slam in 2010, and the poems haven’t stopped since. Dylan will never let me forget this, and I hate to admit it because it feeds his ego, but he really is the reason I am involved in this community and this art form that has brought so many incredible things to my life. It’s really too bad he’s such a jerk.
Neil Hilborn is a College National Poetry Slam champion and a 2011 graduate with honors from Macalester College. In August of 2013, his poem OCD went viral, garnering over seven million views on YouTube, making it the most-viewed slam poem ever. Originally from Houston, Texas, he has finally started to adapt to Minnesota winter. It’s taken long enough.
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