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Poor Form Poetry: Back on the Block

By Erin Winseman

In a letter written in 1819 by Romantic poet John Keats to his brother George and sister-in-law Georgiana, Keats said that “nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced — Even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life hast illustrated it.’

The College’s community of poet-performers, Poor Form Poetry, captures this “realness” of poetic experience in their spoken word presentations. They bring to poetry a fourth aspect: performance. Designed to connect with the audience, Poor Form’s poetry is written, work-shopped and then performed in the spoken word style during their on-campus events or, as it has been in the past, national poetry slam competitions. As opposed to spoken word, which involves more storytelling, slam poetry has a much more theatrical element.

Last year, Poor Form Poetry was not as active due to the group’s graduated seniors and the number of juniors studying abroad, but now they are back and already preparing for their upcoming show in November. They are focusing more on the spoken word element but depending on the group’s interests may compete in slam competitions later on.

Meagan Neal ’15 is a senior in the group and, having been involved with the group since her sophomore year, is one of the leading forces this year. Although in her first year of Poor Form the group focused largely on participating in the wider slam poetry college community, Neal said, “we’re making more of an effort to reach out to the college community. We want to have a solid group of poets that really care about each other and each other’s work and then share that with the campus.”

Poor Form’s efforts to integrate themselves into the campus can be seen in the auditions held last month for new members. Out of the nearly twenty people who auditioned, seven were accepted. One of these new members is Andrew Snow ’15, who is also a prominent member of Middlebury’s open mic group Verbal Onslaught.

“As a freshman I was blown away by their skill,” Snow said. “You get to workshop with some amazing poets and I really wanted that atmosphere.”

Emily Luan ’15, another leading senior in the group, was impressed both by the amount of people who showed up and by the poetic skill that she saw.

“There were a lot of really great people, which was a really pleasant surprise,” she said. “We looked for a certain quality of poetry but we also wanted a wide range of voices and styles.”

Now, with more new members than old, Poor Form has done just this: drawing from the student population to create a myriad of talented voices and capping the group at eleven members. Having more poets allows for a more extensive workshop, one of the integral elements of Poor Form.

Workshop, a process practiced in many of the College’s creative writing classes, involves sharing one’s personal, written work with the group and listening to different reactions, praises and critiques. Having a consistent group of people to workshop with twice a week allows for much personal growth as a writer as well as an opportunity to connect within the group and build relationships outside of the College’s traditional academic writing classes.

Poor Form’s members thus develop their writing into spoken word presentations, bringing in the element of performance to create a much wider poetic experience for the audience and, by John Keats’ standards, making it very real for everyone who listens.

It is not easy to perform a personal collection of words in front of an audience. “You don’t know how people will react to your words, especially if it’s personal,” Snow said.

But the upside? “Having that constant inspiration to write is so helpful,” Neal said. “Learning when to raise and lower your voice, when to preserve those sacred, quiet moments in the poem and to transmit feeling and emotion in a way that for me personally isn’t always possible when it’s just words on a page.”

Without campus organizations such as Verbal Onslaught or Poor Form Poetry, there is no available environment to hear what other writers are working on across campus and to hear their sentiments expressed out loud. “It’s absolutely mind blowing to me how good they are,” Snow said. Writing poetry is often a personal experience but poetry itself is an art with the power to inspire, affect, and move others; through Poor Form Poetry, this can happen right at Middlebury.

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