So it’s been a while since I’ve last posted, and summer is in full swing here at Lowell. I’ve been enjoying the season so far, giving tours and meeting with visitors (including the new SCIPs and the Greening Youth Foundation!)
I’ve also been doing some new things too, though. Lately on my tours I’ve been trying out something different to communicate with visitors – spoken word poetry. Spoken word is a little tricky to define, but one way to think of it is as performance poetry – poems that are written with the intent of being performed, not necessarily to be published in a book.
I first started doing spoken word when I was in college. There was an organization for Asian American students to do creative writing, and to perform spoken word, poetry, and theatre and comedy skits – all about our different experiences being Asian American. I’ve been wanting to write a poem about Lowell since I started working here, but after I graduated my writing kind of fell by the wayside.
Then in March, the Park had its annual Women’s Week, and I thought it might be cool to do a creative writing workshop for a program. Historically, Lowell has a tradition of creative writing – going all the way back to the early mill women in the 1830’s, who published their own literary magazines, with short stories and poems, communicating and giving voice to their experiences in the mills. And now, the Lowell Offering is a source used at the Park when we do research about the history here. I thought that continuing that practice of creative writing could be a cool way for the Park to honor that tradition.
While preparing for the workshop in March, I started to finally write my own poem about Lowell. The end result was seven pages – about five minutes when spoken out loud. Maybe the definition of poetic excess is waiting to write for four years and then coming up with seven pages. But I’m happy with how it turned out.
This poem for Women’s Week, “Pocket Change”, and another later poem I wrote, “A Ghost Town”, is what I’ve been using on my tours this month. And so far, the feedback I’ve gotten from visitors has been great. On my first tour of the summer, I performed some poetry for the visitors, and this little kid (maybe four or five), who was excited about Lowell but shy whenever I tried talking with him, interrupted my interpretation after I finished reading – and said “Excuse me, but I really liked your poem” – and that was absolutely the best feeling ever.
Apart from performing in front of visitors, I’m also trying new programming this summer too. I’m facilitating more creative writing workshops – six altogether this season – on different topics: women’s history, the environment, and immigration. The series of workshops is called “Lowell, In Our Own Words” – and my first workshop is this Thursday!
I’ll be using historic primary source material to come up with prompts, and I’ll start each workshop with a little interpretation. But then it’s mostly hands-off for me: the workshops are designed for the participants, the visitors. There’ll be large-group and small-group brainstorming conversations, some free-writing time, and time for people to share if they’d like. My goal with the workshops is to get visitors to realize how they experience Lowell’s history personally, as in, what are people’s own stories and experiences of women’s history, the environment, of immigration? It’s not set up for the workshops to be a writing class, but more for them to be conversations.
Since the first workshop is next week, apart from giving tours in June I’ve also been publicizing for the program. I’ve performed at some open mics in the area (at a local coffeehouse and at the Mass Poetry festival), drafted a press release, emailed community organizations about it, designed and printed flyers, and went on the local AM radio station to talk about it. And today I just found out that my program made it to the homepage of the NPS website!
I’m really excited and jazzed for the workshops, and I’m looking forward to Thursday.
And I’m even more psyched to be writing and performing again, and to be able to use that creative outlet in interpretation. I remember that when my supervisor observed one of my tours a while ago, her main recommendation was that I needed to “own it” (my conclusion) more. And while I don’t think spoken word/poetry has a lot of rules by default, as an art form, there are two that I stick with on principle: 1) when I write, it needs to be about something that moves me and 2) when I perform, I need to own it. Poetry gives me a way to do that in interpretation.
And I knew interpretation was fun, and I knew that I enjoyed it – but I never realized how much fun it could be, when it can be more creative. And if I’m really delivering a passionate statement in my interpretation, and the visitor can see it’s something I really care about, then I think they’re more likely to care about it too.