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Silence in Spoken Word--Web Event #1

Amoylan's picture

            The class is averagely sized, large by Bryn Mawr’s standards though. The atmosphere is a bit chaotic, I walk in to a whirlwind of questions and answers and voices a few minutes after the “getting to know you” activity has started. The professor says list every pronoun you know to this person across from you that you’ve never spoken to…go.

            I’m really good one-on-one, I like to think that I can carry a conversation and keep people interested long enough to get to know them a little better. I love hearing people’s stories and trying to see the world through their eyes. I feel as though I don’t usually struggle to find the words to say unless I am in a group situation. In group situations I tend to want to hide behind other people’s opinions and stories. I want to absorb and learn them I guess more than I want to share my own, I don’t want to say the wrong thing, but is there a right thing to say? I feel inadequate in comparison, even though I should never be comparing my experiences to other peoples. I know I have unique stories to share that only I can contribute, so why do I hesitate? I never acknowledged my obvious silence even though I subconsciously knew it was there. My fear of offending or saying something that doesn’t make sense always overrides my want and need to share what I have to offer to conversation, I want people to be in my world and I want to show it to them, I can do it one-on-one but I still need to find myself able to do it in a classroom setting.

            I have become increasingly intrigued by the genre of spoken word in the past few weeks and I believe it is my mind’s way of filling the void of silence I have created within myself. I love watching people perform their work with such raw emotion and power. I’ve drafted a poem that will become a spoken word poem in time with some more work. It’s titled:

Releasing Silence

Humans are filled with questions

Twenty questions

One after the other

Like a fountain from lips that have forgotten to think before they ask

“so you like girls now?”

questions that maybe we didn’t want asked

and now have no choice but to address

sometimes there are questions that go un-asked

because he knew my answer was no.

an answer that has taken up residence as a deep pit in my stomach

a silence that is screaming from my insides.

I sit in class soaking up answers to questions

Like a sponge seeking some volume to fill my silent no.

I want to sink so deep into my desk

To disappear to a world where there are no questions

No more questions that unlock the floodgate of tears

With a scalpel

Performing open heart surgery on your deepest emotions

Parts of your life that others feel entitled to in the name of curiosity

No more prodding at your weakest parts that will crumble with a question and no sign of a fight

And yet I want someone to pull me out of this question free world I have created

I too, have so much to ask

I live in a cycle of silence

The no I swallowed sucking away each word I know I have the power to say

Hesitation eats at my wonder like a bully taking my lunch money

I want to strip everything away

And go back to that moment when you looked at me and said

“can I kiss you?”

A question I never thought I’d be asked but one that created such a resonant yes, I felt ready to release my silent no.

I felt ready to clear the cobwebs off my conscience

And feel new air in my lungs

Feel okay with breaking my silence

Feel okay with questions

Feel okay with me

It seems convoluted to me that my chosen way of accepting silence is through spoken word, but then it also makes sense. Poetry is a place where silence is accepted but also outwardly expressed. It’s like when people say: “if you can’t say how you feel, sing it” song lyrics, like poetry, speak to people on a deeper level than monotone words in a conversation. In an article in the Chicago Tribune entitled The rebirth of spoken word poetry, Donna Seaman writes “spoken-word poetry is cogent, powerful and surprising, sly as well as blatant, funny as well as tragic. And the movement has so much heart and soul, and satisfies the needs of so many people, it can't help but thrive.” People want their silence and pain and laughter and joy to be shared and when it is shared through the art of spoken word poetry, people can connect and feel it too. The importance of human connection is so alive in this movement.

Human connection tends to be easier when you are one-on-one with someone and I know that I can handle that. I feel very connected to the class in that people very bravely share their stories and experiences, the problem is I hesitate and I am not one of them, so people don’t feel connected to me. I wrote my poem in hopes that people would maybe get a glimpse into my world and I could feel more ready to actively let people in more in the classroom setting, not necessarily just one-on-one situations.

There is an article on that states “Spoken word is usually understood as a form of literary art or performance in which poetry, stories, and text are spoken rather than sung. Often associated with background music in a performance setting, spoken word can be improvisational or planned, and, although it is not sung, the prose of spoken word is usually more artistic than normal speech.” Since spoken word is a performance that makes it more personal but on another hand it can be less personal and therefore easier to share your deepest thoughts through your work. I’ve said before I’m really good one-on-one, but I’m also really good in a performance setting, I feel safe enough to share but I feel enough distance that I wont be afraid or hesitate as I do in a classroom setting. Spoken word makes it easy for people to share intimate parts of their life without necessarily feeling a connection to any one person or a group of people in the audience. The audience provides a general comfort and support.

The audience of the classroom is supportive as well but I’m still trying to warm up to that and I’m hoping my poem helped me get my foot in the door, I’m still working on getting it all the way open, and breaking the silence. 


Anne Dalke's picture


I’m glad you’re exploring these questions of classroom performance; as you know, I’m very struck by the juxtaposition of the shyness you feel in group situations, with your comfort in performance settings, where you “feel safe enough to share but enough distance that you won’t be afraid or hesitate as you do in a classroom setting.” There, your “fear of offending or saying something that doesn’t make sense always overrides your want and need to share what you have to offer.” Thinking about the classroom as a space of performance seems the way for you to go, and using spoken word as a way to get there seems the ticket!

The key here seems to be the distance you experience in performance settings, but not in the classroom: distance between yourself and the character you’re performing? (because you’re not “speaking as” yourself?) Distance between yourself and the audience? (which seems supportive in performance spaces, but judgmental in the classroom?) I’d like to understand this better.

Your musings put me in mind of the work of Elizabeth Ellsworth, a film theorist and educator who wrote a book called Teaching Positions: Difference, Pedagogy, and the Power of Address. Applying the idea of mode of address from film theory to education, Ellsworth posits that, just as films are positioned to appeal to particular audiences, teachers address their students in order to appeal to who the teachers think the students are. But, Ellsworth goes on to explain, positioning by filmmakers and teachers is always imperfect: “The point is that all modes of address misfire one way or another. I never ‘am’ the ‘who’ that a pedagogical address thinks I am. But then again, I never am the who that I think I am either.

Ellsworth attributes the failure of mode of address to match the requirements of an intended audience to two propositions: that what we think we know of other people is limited to what they have told us; and that what we think we know of ourselves is limited only to what we are conscious of.  But it’s in that space that teaching takes place; without it, we’d have nothing to learn. So, rather than suggesting ways to bridge this gap, Ellsworth argues that it is to be preserved as the space of agency and of learning…

Don’t know if any of this helps….

ccassidy's picture

performance in the classroom

One the most important things that connects our papers is the idea that performing on stage in front of an audience can allow for more freedom than a small classroom environment.  I concluded my web event with the same hope that if I channel the confidence and freedom that comes from performing than I could find my voice in a class discussion. Also, both of our paper's recognized the fear of not being validated by peers when speaking in class and how this can create a sense of anxiety in people who question themselves before they speak.  It seems like both of our paper's suggested that a potential way to work on solving this problem is to imagine the distance created between a performer and the audience in a classroom setting to produce that same confidence we get from performing. 

EP's picture

One of the most important

One of the most important intersections between your paper and mine is the idea of silence out of hesistation to speak. In my paper, I attributed it to feelings that one does not belong in a space and, therefore, is afraid to speak for fear that their views are not valid. In other words, a kind of fear. I see this in your paper when you write "My fear of offending or saying something that doesn’t make sense always overrides my want and need to share what I have to offer to conversation...". You also suggest that speaking is a lot easier when "The audience provides a general comfort and support." Not speaking out of fear of judgment from the audience you are speaking to is a huge part of the paper that I wrote and I see that in your paper as well.