Spoken Word: A Platform for the Oppressed


Spoken Word Poets and Performers–

Shira Erlichman

Shira Erlichman (Photo credit: Nivea Castro)
Shira Erlichman (Photo credit: Nivea Castro)

“I’m Queer. I’ll always be vocal. I think the LGBTQ community is pushing society to be more compassionate, thoughtful, honest, and vibrant – sometimes in ways that have nothing to do with sexuality, but just have to do with coming fully into one’s self, whoever that self is, and poking holes into too-easily-accepted ‘norm.'”

Shira, born in Israel, now lives in Brooklyn. She is a songwriter, producer, visual artist, and poet. Shira said she started attending the Cantab Lounge in Boston when she was 16, just to watch; she performed for the first time when she was 18-years-old. Shira joined the slam team at Hampshire College, and made her way onto the Boston team in 2007, which she said was a powerful experience.

Miles Walser

(Photo credit: Bridget Badore)
Miles Walser (Photo credit: Bridget Badore)

“Performing poetry absolutely made me more confident in my voice and made me believe that what I have to say matters. When I started college I wasn’t sure that I wanted to ever talk about being trans and my experiences as a queer person. As I started writing and performing more, I had a few close friends and fellow poets encourage me to write more about my experiences as a trans person—that validation that my stories were worth sharing pushed me to write more and more about things I’d been too afraid to share with others. That growth and confidence has seeped into every area of my life and made me a stronger person.”

Miles first got into spoken word poetry in high school. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor’s in Individualized Studies in English, Social Justice and Youth Studies. In 2010, Miles represented the U of M at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational; he placed 3rd in the nation and was named Best Male Poet. In 2012, Miles won the award for Best Poem by a Male Poet at the Wade-Lewis Poetry Slam Invitational.

Megan Falley

(Photo credit: Megan Falley)
Megan Falley (Photo credit: Megan Falley)

“As a mostly femme presenting woman, it is important for me to write and perform poems about my queerness and relationships because I am often ‘read as straight.’ I hope that being outspoken about being a big queer will banish the phrase ‘but she doesn’t look gay’ from everyone’s vocabulary in the world, encourage people not to make assumptions on anyone’s gender or sexuality based on their appearance, and dismantle femme invisibility as much as I can.”

Megan says she has been a writer and performer for as long as she can remember but got into spoken word during her freshman year of college. Megan teaches an online poetry, writing and editing course called “Poems That Don’t Suck.” In 2012, she toured the United States and Canada for 100 days delivering electric readings of her poetry and signing books. Megan lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Taco.

Liz Thaler 

(Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)
Liz Thaler (Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)

“Visibility is the most important tool to fighting homophobia…and the arts is one of the best ways to show people other experiences…your life would be so much less rich without all these different experiences, and because LGBT people are themselves so diverse, we have so much to learn from each other. So showing these stories, giving people a platform, where there’s no fear, that’s a really important step to bringing acceptance and actual harmony to the arts and beyond.”

Liz is the artistic director for All out Arts, Fresh Fruit Festival— New York’s celebration of LGBTQ arts and culture. Liz is a director, playwright and producer.  In 2008 she founded In Extremis Theater Company. Liz is a native New Yorker and lives in the West Village.

Chauvet Bishop

Chauvet Bishop (Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)

“Art is for the oppressed….We have so much that we feel we can’t say, that we can’t get out; and the more oppressed you are, the more artistic you are. Because it’s either you make art, you laugh, you love or you die…that’s it. So this is just the way that we live, this is the only way that we can live happily; how many places can we be free, can we be ourselves, can we be applauded for being that?”

Chauvet, who is also a licensed massage therapist, moved from North Carolina to New York City to escape the oppression of living in the South as a gay and multi-racial woman.

Jack Trinco

(Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)
Jack Trinco (Photo credit: Julianne Cuba)

“It’s a nice forum to express yourself in a poetic way and to be able to play with ideas…words in a way that you can’t in a traditional play…Society has changed so much—you no longer have to wonder who is a gay person, you can go online and see 50,000 of them with one click. It’s fascinating to watch the culture progress and so quickly and I feel so pleased to be a little tiny part of that.”

Jack, now 39, moved to New York when he was 22-years-old. He is a member of the Fresh Fruits Festival and a poet. Jack lives in Astoria.

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Newsday: Long Island students opt out rate of common core testing

Newsday’s data about the number of students who dropped out of common core testing is very helpful. Two semesters ago I wrote about the common core and common core testing in the tristate area. This date would have been very beneficial to include in my story. Previously, before this data, I found reports about the test scores of students in different school districts. Some schools reported very high test scores while others reported very low scores; but this data is extremely important because it adds another dimension to the story– how many students are dropping out of the tests? Test scores only mean so much if more than half of the student population is dropping out.

Though Newsday didn’t incorporate their own story with this data, I could add it to my own, or write a follow-up story using this data.

One thing I found interesting was that the data for Hempstead was missing. Remembering back to over the summer when I was researching test scores from school districts on long island, Hempstead had a significantly lower average test score than other districts. I wonder why they are exempt from Newsday’s data? Will they eventually release the data?

NYT Op-Docs: Spider Drove a Taxi

Spider Drove a Taxi is very well done as a video story because the entire piece is narrated by Spider, whose real name is Johnnie Footman, and who was the oldest cabby in New York City.

The video starts off with Spider on screen. His character is perfect for a video story…he’s genuine, personable and talkative, and he’s certainly done a lot of living.

Spider starts off the piece by announcing that he’s been driving a cab since 1945 He recites his cab number and then lights up a cigar. The piece then fades into music- trumpets. It sounds like it’d be heard in a bar in New Orleans.

Spider said he came to NYC after he got tired of using and hearing racial slurs. He then started driving cabs around NYC to, like all the others, make a living and pay his rent.

On top of Spider’s words are photographs of current NYC cab drivers. What makes the story so great is that the producer also includes photographs dating back to the first half of the 20th century, which are all in black and white. Old photographs always make a story better.

One of my favorite lines Spider says in the story is, “they may not understand each other right off hand, but they get along…”

In his own vernacular, it’s said so simply. But its also so profound- if only that applied to the rest of the world.

He also says how every car is from another country…it makes me want to hear all their stories as well.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the music selection, from southern-style (Spider is from Florida) to pure instrumental.

Right after ending with an image of Spider, the producer included one black screen, stating the birth and death of Spider: 1919-2013. I thought this was a very well done piece and a beautiful tribune to someone who may not have otherwise had his story told.

The Power of Nursing: Diana’s Story

Diana Siegel, ICU nurse
Diana Siegel, ICU nurse

Diana Siegel, a  2014 graduate of Binghamton University, began her career as a nurse just eight months ago. Diana works the night shift, 7 p.m to 7 a.m., at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. The difficulties that nurses face everyday, and the strengths that they possess to care for the sickest of the sick, are overwhelmingly under acknowledged and under appreciated. Diana shares her story as a new nurse in one of the most difficult rooms of a hospital, the ICU.

LA Times: His body a prison

His body a prison

Spencer Sullivan

I’m not sure why but the majority of audio slide shows—or at least out of the few that have been introduced to me or I have seen—seem to take on a somber tone, like waiting for death.

LA Time’s audio slide show: “His body a prison,” fits perfectly into that mold.

“His body a prison” is about a man, now 48, who in 2001, after having neck surgery, received too much pain medication and became a quadriplegic after being improperly watched.

Sullivan was a nurse himself before becoming a hostage to his own body; his parents moved from Atlanta to Laguna Hills, where he lives, to look after him 24/7.

The slide show starts with just a black screen and white words detailing Sullivan’s history, and a knock on the door begins the natural sound.

It’s his mom checking up on him.

“Hi Spence…how’s it going this morning?”

You can just make out Sullivan respond, “Hey mom.”

The slide show goes on with a still image of Sullivan lying lifeless on the bed—his eyes look full of pain as he speaks over his own body saying that he used to work every day in the ICU.

“And then she overdosed me,” Sullivan says with a still image of, probably his father, placing a pill in Sullivan’s open mouth.

Sullivan’s mother, Carol Sullivan, audibly cries as she talks about her son and what he was before he became a quadriplegic.

“He’s still here but… the ache in my heart from what we’ve lost,” his mother cries.

The juxtaposition of the idea of Sullivan being a strong, working, walking nurse, to solely being cared for by his parents and a caretaker, is powerful. We know he used to take care of people himself, but now all we see is Sullivan lying helplessly on a bed while caretakers help him bathe and urinate.

“Yeah, I’m angry…but you have to accept things,” he says.

Over the natural sound of Sullivan’s caretakers taking him in the pool, with water splashing, he says, “I wish I’d be able to walk…but I don’t think that’s in the cards for me.”

It seems that this audio slide show purposely juxtaposes many contradictory images and statements to show the life Sullivan wishes he could have back, and the one he does have now.

I think the fact that Sullivan’s character is, unfortunately, not cheerful or optimistic adds a great deal to this audio slide show. On the surface, it seems, many people who have suffered trauma portray a positive façade. But through his speaking, his tone of voice and his face, we can see his real thoughts and emotions—as heartbreaking as they are, they make for a compelling story.

Serial: A New Platform Not a New Idea


I first listened to Serial in the early fall when it was the only thing anyone was talking about. I went into the first episode with the highest of expectations, anticipating the most intriguing and exciting story telling of all time.

It was good, but it didn’t leave me wanting more. I could have just given up after the first episode without ever finding out who had killed Hae Min Lee. I should have just given up after the first episode, because no one ever found out who killed Hae Min Lee.

But I made it to the sixth episode before finally calling it quits.

To be honest, I actually thought that the victims name was “Haley” for the first two episodes before I realized they were calling her Hae, for Hae Min. Maybe that’s a sound issue, a fault in Sarah Koenig’s speaking voice– who is the show’s producer and host—or maybe it was just a shortcoming of my brain for not regularly listening to podcasts.

When I looked up the case online, Hae Min is not at all what I pictured her to look like, which is always an imagination letdown.

Courtesy of TheStar.com
Courtesy of TheStar.com

I think what bothered me most about Serial was that it was just like any other murder investigation. I’ve watched CBS’s 48 hours many times with my mom. Serial was that minus the video footage—it was nothing new or different, just the latest fad.

Koenig’s speaking voice was pretty soothing to listen to, I think. But after I saw on Instagram a friend’s post about how she never swallowed, and had built up saliva that was audible, that’s all I could think about.

Questioning the ­accuracy of every bit of information she is given … Sarah Koenig
Sarah Koenig

I think that Serial was definitely well produced as just an audio story. I was able to create most images in my mind, like when Koenig takes you to the crime scene after one of the suspects finds Hae’s body in the woods after urinating. I saw him creepily in the woods with a bottle of jack, urinating on a body, which he may or may not have just murdered.

I also was able to visualize the fights Adnan and Hae had, and his overwhelming presence in always wanting to spend time with her. I could feel the tension as they were describing it.

In a few episodes, Koenig reads from Hae’s journal. This was definitely chilling and I think any visual of this would have greatly taken away from the power of Hae’s own words—especially given that Hae is dead.

Hae’s love for Adnan but also her fears about him were both very real and transparent in her diary.

I think the influence of Hae’s diary would have been greatly diminished with an actress portraying Hae visually, or with someone else reading them on screen.

I stopped after the many call logs and back and forths of Koenig trying to find friends from Hae and Adnan’s past. I have no desire to re-listen to finish the series.