Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Learning to Slam

A Story Slam?  I’d heard of but never attended a Poetry Slam.  What’s a Story Slam?

This definition is from Norah Dooley of massmouth: “Based on a poetry Slam format and similar to American Idol, a story slam is a contest of words by known and undiscovered talent. massmouth posts a theme on its website and story slammers sign up on the night [of the Story Slam] to tell a 5-minute short story on the evening's theme, and a lucky eight to ten names will be drawn at random from a box. Other audience members may feel moved to join in on a judging team. There will be a team of 5 judges - interested amateurs, storytellers, theater people and anyone who loves stories. Each set of 5 stories will begin with a story by a sacrificial teller, usually one of the past winners. Listeners will be engaged in story improv games and other interactive entertainments between each 5 minute feature.

Each of the featured 5 minute stories is judged on how well it is told, how well it is constructed and how well the story explores, connects and/or reveals some truth about the theme and, how well it honors the time limit.  The 2 highest-scoring tellers and 1 Audience Choice are awarded prizes. … Prizes will be awarded at each slam.”

 Stories Slams were beginning to work their way into the venue of Storytelling Conferences, when I attended both Sharing the Fire produced by L.A.N.E.S. and the Northlands  Conference produced by the Northlands Storytelling Network.  I watched and listened as my friend, Judith Heineman, prepared her slam story for Sharing the Fire and wondered if I could tell a personal story in five minutes.  At the Northlands Conference, I was invited to be a “Judge-in-Training” which meant sitting with the judges next to Judy Sima so I could ask questions about what she was doing and what the numbers meant.  I learned that you don’t want to be the first contestant.

Set the mic on FIRE
 Also at the Northlands Conference, the audience was invited to participate by telling “Filler Stories,” a one minute anecdotal story on the theme.  Well, I had some of those in my back pocket, but would they fit the theme.  I pondered…  One of the contestants told a story about playing games with her father.  Ah Ha!  That was one I could do!  So I volunteered to tell while the real judges deliberated out in the hall.

Venturing to the stage I began my story of playing Monopoly with my dad almost every weekend in the winter.  It was a dual to the finish with Dad usually winning.  Finally I figured out what his strategy was, tried it; and found it worked.  Then the real battles began.  Many years later, while attending the International Science and Technology Fair with my daughter, I heard a young scientist explain his project: “Winning Monopoly” to the group of assembled students and their adult companions.  It was the same strategy Dad used and I copied – exactly!  Scientific Proof which validated one ten-year-old's creative thinking skills. 
I’ve expanded that one minute anecdotal story and am now waiting for another theme to be Right.  Searching through the anecdotes of one’s life can be likened to a Treasure Hunt.  Once the treasure is discovered, it takes building and paring to discover the essential truth of the story.  Both a challenge and a discipline in building a good story.  That, I think, is the pull of Story Slam.

Copyright 2014 Julie Moss Herrera. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Julie Moss Herrera.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Anatomy of a Poem

The Harvest Moon on September 13, 2013, was to be full and bright, only a storm threatened viewing.  When the moon rose full and orange in the eastern sky, I did not see it.  I was telling stories to eager faced elementary students, and besides a thunder storm was raging outside. 
But by the time the storytelling was over, so was the storm.  The clouds were drifting apart exposing the moon to the earth below.  After driving home with moonlight in my face, I wrote:

“Last night the goddess moon finally slid gracefully from beneath the tattered remnants of clouds from the earlier storm, hanging, a luminous bright alabaster globe in the sky, bathing the earth below with radiant light, as in the west a few hardy stars ventured forth to wink and blink among the wispy clouds still floating there, and to the south lightning backlit the turbulent clouds still threatening the mountains.”

“Poetic prose,” one of my friends wrote on my Facebook page.  “Could you turn it into a poem?”

Normally I do not write poetry, preferring prose; but I took the challenge and changed it a bit.

“Goddess Moon slides
Gracefully from beneath
Tattered remnants
Of passing storms. 

Hanging, luminous, bright
An alabaster globe
Bathing the earth in radiant light. 

Across the sky hardy stars wink, blink
Among wispy clouds
Still floating there. 

And near the mountains
Lightning flashes
Backlit clouds
Threaten rain.”

Yes, I said a bit, not nearly enough.  The friend who issued the challenge read it and made a few suggestions, leaving everything up to me, as it should be.  So after a few more Facebook chats the final product lies below:

Moon Goddess             

©Julie Herrera 2013

Goddess Moon
Glides beneath
Tattered remnants
Of passing storms,

Hanging – luminous
Alabaster globe
Bathing earth in
Radiant light.

Hardy stars across
The sky wink, blink
Amongst wispy clouds
Still floating there,

Above mountains
Lightning flickers,
Backlit clouds
Threaten rain.

All of that and a call for submissions for "The Conejos Writers’ Circle Book" prompted me to take another look at a longer poem I attempted to write a few years back which was rejected for different  anthology.  The two versions follow directly:


By Julie Herrera

When the darkness reaches forward gobbling up the light,
When the dull browns of the fields turn to gold and shadows lengthen,
When the clouds of dust on the dirt roads add to the beauty,

When wheeling flocks of raucous cranes and geese call to each other as they look for a place to settle for the night,
When some fly so close to the mountains, they look like the shadow of a giant helicopter, 
Only to be seen for what they are as they fly south far enough to leave the mountain aside,

When clouds go from white to bright yellow and gold to orange,
When the clouds fade to pink and grey sometimes with a violet cast,
When the Sangres turn pink,

When the sun gives one last glorious burst of color over the western mountains,
When the moon starts to brighten.

Then is a sense of peace,
Then is a time to reflect as the cares of the day slide from the shoulders,

Then is the most beautiful time of the day,
Then is a time to behold,
Then is a time to reflect on the beauty of nature,
Then is a time to see the wondrousness of God,

Then is the time called dusk.

©Julie Herrera 2013

When darkness reaches forward gobbling up the light,  
Sandhill cranes against the San Juan Mountains
Dull browns turn gold, shadows lengthen,  
Clouds of dust, beauty add;

When wheeling flocks of raucous cranes, geese
Call to one another looking for places,
Settle for the night;

When clouds turn bright yellow, gold and orange,
Colors fade to pink and grey, a violet cast,
The Sangres turn pink;
When last glorious color bursts over mountains,
The moon imperceptibly brightens.

Then comes a sense of peace,
Cares slide away,
Gaze at beauty.

Then, a time to contemplate,
A time named dusk.

So in writing a poem, I learned to tighten up the language, to cut out the unnecessary words.  It was a challenge and an exercise in discipline.  For instance in the Transition/Dusk piece what prompted me to write it all down in the first place was the cranes that “look like the shadow of a giant helicopter…”  As you can see when reading “Dusk” the helicopter of cranes is gone.  Writers must learn to “kill their darlings”; but one might also think of it as the darlings giving birth to an idea which needs to be molded, then they don’t have to be killed just given the
opportunity to grow and stretch, to become what they were intended to be.  After all that’s what we do with our children, isn’t it?

©Julie Moss Herrera 2014
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