The open mic for most artists is the perfect space to read new work fresh off the pen, as many people in the spoken word scene refer to as NEW SHIT! At times, poems, stories, rants, and jokes birthed recently from the artist aren’t necessarily always memorized, but our bodies and innermost parts of our souls crave to reveal the language we’ve created.
The pondering question I’ve encountered as an artist is the aesthetic presentation in which new work is revealed to an audience. Some poets tend to kick it old school and read straight from their notebooks. Others hit print on their computers and read off Times New Roman font. While others take advantage of modern cell phone technology and at the swipe of a finger can access an abundance of work.
But is there a right way to present art in the written form? Is there a more appealing approach for the receivers and listeners of our art? I did some further investigating and asked a few poets if they prefer paper or technology when it comes to reading new material in front of a crowd. Their responses concluded that the “Paper Versus Technology” debate is one based on the comfort, convenience, and accessibility of the artist. What’s your preference? Check out their responses below!
Jen Wang: “ I’ve only ever read a poem off a phone once—prior to that, the compactness of the device really appealed to me. Large, floppy pieces of paper can feel like walls that I am hiding behind. But I found that I rather dislike having a phone with me on stage. My phone is something that disconnects me from my surroundings, and that feeling settled into my body when I brought it a reading once.
Ultimately, I’ve found that I enjoy reading directly out of notebooks. I write a fair bit of work in pocket-size notebooks. They’re very travel-friendly, and reading out of them is both a tactile and compact experience.”
Alfredo Aguilar: “While I have done both and I think each has certain advantages and disadvantages, I would have to say that I prefer reading off paper. Among other things, it helps me in the editing process because I get to see how my words are arranged on the page. It helps me see the words in a different light and I might notice something that I may have overlooked when I was writing and editing it on a word processor. I also like the tangible aspect of reading off paper. Being able to hold my words on a page is as close to touching language as I think I’ll ever get.”
Shannon Linzer: “The Lorax I am not. I grew up in the era of dot-matrix printer and prefer to edit near-final drafts on paper. It helps me to better see the shape of a poem. With regards to performance, paper avoids a myriad of potential glitches that tend to pull an audience out of the experience. Also, electronic user interfaces tend to create an illusion of depth via multiple open windows/applications. To me, this is the virtual equivalent of performing while hiding under the sheets. Paper can be held so as to maintain a significantly greater amount of eye contact with the audience. This in-between space, to me, is where poems really come alive.”
Bruce Hoskins: “PAPER!
1) I have seen people literally lose their poem because they accidentally hit the wrong thing on their cell phone and had to spend 30 seconds to over 1 minute (which is an ETERNITY on the stage) trying to find their poem.
2) People are far more likely to ‘shrink’ into their phones when they read off of them versus paper, e.g. smaller voices, hunched shoulders and less likely to look up for fear of losing their place on their tiny interface.
3) Paper these days normally means they did one round of editing as they transferred their poem from their phone to paper. Editing is ALWAYS a plus :).”
Viet Mai: “It really depends on the setting. If it’s a paid spoken word gig and a new audience, then polished material is presented. If it’s a feature in a familiar setting, or a casual open mic, anything goes. With that being said, I’ve done both.
I see value in the display of people’s processes. Certain settings are more casual than others and embrace the sharing of raw material; other settings can be known more for the performance aspect (like Slams). If I’m going to do it, I think paper is classier, but since we’re in a digital age, and I try to be more green in my efforts, I don’t have a problem reading from my phone. Even though I think it looks amateur.”
Blanca E. Castro: “I prefer to read poems from paper. My writing mentors have always told that it is better to memorize poems, but it is okay to read from paper than from a device like a cellphone or a tablet. With this being said, I simply got so used to reading poems from paper. At times when I perform, I’ve read poems from my cellphone and it honestly feels bizarre. When I read from a piece of paper, I feel like I have a stronger connection to the poem.”
Jen Wang is a first generation Taiwanese-American teaching artist based in the Twin Cities.
Alfredo Aguilar is a poet living in North County San Diego. He helps run a bi-weekly open mic in Oceanside CA called Glassless Minds
Shannon Linzer is a spoken word artist and movement educator whose work focuses on questions of identity and privilege. She likes hummingbirds & handstands & seeing things from different perspectives. Shannon grew up in Skokie, Illinois and currently resides in San Diego, California.
Bruce Hoskins, aka the Professor, is an instructor of sociology at MiraCosta College and a spoken word poet/hip hop artist. As an educator, he takes a different approach to teaching and incorporates poetry as “first person” narratives of sociological concepts, e.g. poverty, sexism and racism, to try and help students understand how these issues affect our everyday lives. Hoskins earned his Master’s and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Southern California (USC), with a focus on race and ethnic relations and multiracial identity formation and has his BA in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Hoskins currently lives in Oceanside, CA and has been married for over eighteen years and has four children.
Viet Mai is an educator, artist and consultant who works to enhance the lives of others through community engagement and youth empowerment. As a member of the 2013 ELEVATED! Slam Team, he represented San Diego to rank 4th place at the National Poetry Slam in Boston, MA. Viet focuses his writing and performing towards education, community development, self-reflection, and empowerment.
Ultimately, Viet’s mission is to collaborate with community members, to educate, motivate, and inspire the youth through spoken word, art, and culture. He has facilitated numerous workshops with various organizations and youth programs. After obtaining his BA in Math-Computer Science from UCSD, Viet currently serves as a Program Facilitator with the Village of Promise Collective Mentoring Program, and as an Independent Consultant, specializing in School Data and Assessment. Furthermore, he devoutly continues to edutain his audience as a member of Collective Purpose.
Blanca E. Castro was born in La Barca Jalisco, Mexico and moved to the United States in 2003. As an undocumented artist she continues to pursue her education and is currently studying to obtain a Masters degree in Sociological Practice. Castro’s goal is to become a sociology professor at the community college level, and to continue to work on her craft as spoken word artist.