by LAURA HAYES
With spoken-word poetry becoming more popular across the country and in Winona, a group of local spoken-word poets are offering a workshop.
River Arts Alliance (RAA) Board Chair Vicki Englich described spoken-word poetry as a mixture of theater and poetry. The workshop will be led by Associate Poet Laureate Nicholle Ramsey, Winona Post reporter Chris Rogers, and Winona Daily News reporter Ben Strand. Ramsey said they will provide a brief history of spoken-word and how it’s evolved in the United States. They will also offer several writing prompts. Participants can also explore the Minnesota Marine Art Museum where the workshop will take place and draw inspiration from the works of art.
The workshop is one of the events offered as part of Great River Writes — a collaborative event between libraries and organizations in Winona and La Crosse, Wis., including the RAA. Englich was approached by leaders in La Crosse who knew about RAA’s art advocacy and work in the community. “They thought it would be a great idea to bring the two communities together,” Englich said. The series kicked off on October 28 and is filled with readings and workshops in both cities — including the upcoming spoken-word workshop. “Our communities don’t compete with each other — we should be collaborating and cooperating with each other,” Englich explained.
During one RAA meeting, Englich suggested adding a workshop to the Great River Writes’ lineup. Englich turned to Winona Poet Laureate Ken McCullough, whose first idea was to get Black Sheep Poetry Collective (BSPC) involved. Strand is one of the founding members of the poetry group, which has organized poetry slams at Blooming Grounds Coffee House and most recently at the Mid West Music Store. Ramsey was one of the first members of BSPC.
McCullough said while BSPC already has an audience for its events, he hopes to open its work to a larger audience. “Winona is really a tremendous community, and the arts community continues to grow exponentially,” McCullough said. He added that while some people may have a set idea of what poetry is, the community in general — and specifically Winona’s literary community — should be open to the spoken-word style.
McCullough said that poetry lovers should expand their comfort levels to include different styles of poetry. While McCullough does not consider himself a spoken-word poet, he frequently works and performs with poets who speak other languages. “Poetry, until it’s spoken, is not really alive yet. If it starts out in your heart, it makes its way up your throat and out your mouth. Until that happens, it hasn’t fulfilled its mission,” McCullough explained.
Ramsey first discovered spoken-word after she moved to Winona several years ago. While Ramsey was no stranger to writing poetry, the hard part, she said, was getting up on stage and sharing her story. “It’s nerve-wracking to get up on a stage and be vulnerable,” she said.
“Your first performance will be your most nerve-wracking one,” Ramsey advised. Eventually, she added, the nerves will settle and the poet will become more confident performing. She suggests joining groups such as BSPC for support.
While Englich is interested in learning more about spoken-word, Ramsey is excited to meet like-minded people who are also passionate about poetry. She hopes the workshop will lead to the formation of a writing group in Winona where local writers can share their work and receive feedback.
The workshop will take place on Saturday, November 11, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. The workshop is free and open to the public. Englich said the workshop was made possible through a donation from the Great River Review.