Students at Mesa Westwood High School are getting a exposure to the art of spoken word thanks to Mesa Arts Center’s hosting of “Word Becomes Flesh,” a choreopoem performance that was held at the center last week and parts of which will be shown during spark! Mesa Festival of Creativity being held at the center March 16-17.
Choreopoems are a mixture of poetry recitals, dance and other artforms produced much like plays that tell stories or follow a unifying theme.
But MAC arts education outreach coordinator Mandy Buscas explains the opportunity blossomed into more than just a show.
“A part of bringing in (‘Word becomes Flesh’) was the option for a year-long artists-in-residence with some of the guys who actually perform in the play, so we decided to take advantage of that opportunity to start to bring spoken word into the community,” Buscas said.
Then, MAC hired Phonetic Spit, a valley-wide literacy organization, to work with three schools — two in Phoenix and Westwood — to establish poetry clubs and work toward developing spoken word poetry that expresses participating students’ personal narratives.
Phonetic Spit, cofounded by local artists and poets Tomas Stanton, who performs spoken word poetry with hop-hop and other music and dance forms, and Myrlin Hepworth, a nationally touring slam poet, is a grassroots organization that teaches spoken word poetry to help enhance literacy.
Stanton said it’s not just plain illiteracy that is being remedied.
He said the enhancement of literacy actually comes teaching what he sees as three levels of other types of literacy.
The first level, he said, is emotional literacy, including “being able to understand that emotions are valid, that it’s OK for them to feel certain ways.”
“As emerging adults they have to be able to understand their emotions and have an outlet to express how they feel,” Stanton said.
Stanton said the next form is oral literacy. He said it is important for students to learn to express themselves verbally and in front of audiences, noting “the biggest fear of most people is public speaking.”
“They learn the power of their voice and begin to use it and articulate it in a constructive manner,” he said.
The third level, Stanton said, is cultural literacy, an understanding and awareness of the community and how to create a dialogue to discuss social problems and issues.
Stanton said that by teaching the three levels students become better readers and writers.
“They don’t realize they are becoming better readers and writers because they’re focused on telling their stories … in order to do that you have to be well-read, you have to write,” he said. “It’s really about combating all types of illiteracy.”
Westwood English teacher Rachel Collay, also the faculty advisor to the school’s poetry club, said the work students have done with Phonetic Spit and the artists from “Word Becomes Flesh” have had a positive effect on the students who have participated.
One student in particular, a shy student named Sarah, who would shake while reading her work to the small club of five to eight students, has composed a first-place poem for the district poetry contest and performed it in front of the entire school.
“She has barely said a word the whole year in class … just what she needed to get by,” Collay said.
Some of the participating students have been working on pieces that will also be performed the spark! Festival.
Collay said she will work hard to expand the program to more students. Meanwhile, Phonetic Spit is expanding its reach as it prepares to add a similar program at Mountain View High School.
Visit www.mesaartscenter.com for more information. Further coverage of the spark! Mesa Festival of Creativity is in this issue of the Tribune.
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