I had the privilege of giving a mini TED Talk this past weekend where I shared a bit about my experiences creating this poetry in the schools project, handed out some Moo MiniCards with yummy-delicious kid poems on them, and invited anyone in the TEDxTheWoodlands community interested in coming together to create a similar initiative to be in touch with me.

At the end of the conference day, I did something I haven’t done in a really long time. I performed a poem. And not just any poem, mind you, but a klepto-collaborative poem, a mash-up of the words & ideas of the speakers & host of the day. Something from everyone who crossed the stage at TEDxTheWoodlands was included. I call it a klepto-collaborative poem because, in essence, I’m “stealing” words & phrases from others. It’s collaborative because even though the speakers weren’t aware of it, they all contributed.

I think I’ve perhaps invented this term, but who knows? Mash-ups are certainly not a new idea, we hear them with music all the time and we’ve seen them using video clips, perhaps most commonly at awards shows. Have you ever read or heard a mash-up of poetry? If you have, let me know, I’d love to hear about it!

I’ll post the link to the text & video of our TEDxTheWoodlands klepto-collaborative poem as soon as it’s available for viewing. And here’re my amazing co-volunteers who collaborated in crafting and carrying out the inaugural TEDxTheWoodlands.

In the meantime, hit me up if you live in the Greater Houston & Galveston areas and want someone to come share wordy goodness with your school or youth group. I volunteer my time, but my service dog Luke charges a small fee: at least 3 dog treats per session for his obviously-hard work (pictured below).

I swear, his participation, his engagement, his level of focus & ready/willingness is key to my poetry-teaching.

This is Luke’s ninja pose.

I know, I know, he looks like he’s sound asleep. But he’s actually waiting to pounce upright into his famous applause-dance. A delightful tail-wagging celebration caused by fantabulous phrasing, psychedelic imagery, flights of poetic fancy & daring. Luke even has his own calling cards!

He’s very proud of them, and performs random taste-sampling to ensure their quality.

Speaking of which, here’s someone who inspires me with her passionate poetic way: Sarah Kay.  It’s too late for me to be like her when I grow up, but I’d love to help grow the next generation of poetic voices as a teacher, mentor, and gardener of word-&-imagination lovers ~

I hope to grow an 826Houston or at least something 826like. If you don’t know what I mean by that, you need to check out 826Valencia & 826National. Dave Eggers’ Once Upon a School is what inspired me to create my poetry in the schools project back in Florida. I heard his TED Prize wish talk and it changed the trajectory of my post-graduate “career.” I had planned to do what many–if not most–writers do after securing their MFAs: teach. In fact I’d already secured my first job as an adjunct Professor of English at Broward Community College and was teaching Composition courses. But when I began WordPlay, teaching creative writing to kids, my plan of seeking a tenure-track teaching job dissolved.

Once I was standing in a classroom of 3rd graders crafting penciled word-journeys on pale blue-lined notebook paper it was obvious what I wanted to do. And after I attended the 2009 TED conference in Palm Springs–the tuition was a scholarship awarded to me for creating a project that best honored the spirit of Dave Eggers’ TED Prize wish–I knew that I would never again teach English Comp to college Freshman. I don’t have anything against college students or college English professors–what I’m saying is I realized that the creative part of writing, the kind of writing that grows from imagination & experience, writing whose purpose is story & connection rather than research, facts and information–that’s where my passion lies.

Or I should say, that’s where my passion LIVES.

Creative writing wakes children up; it fuels them; it flips a switch, transforming them from passive to active agents. They are hungry for story, our young people, and given time and opportunity, a well-stocked pantry of tools & ingredients, a little guidance–they are fabulous chef’s of story. All I want to do is hang out in the kitchen with them and talk & cook & eat & cook some more. Because every single experience of that shared creation is Thanksgiving to me.

When you read the things they write, the narratives they concoct & the realms they conjure, you’ll want to have more than your fill as well. Heck, you might even want to come with your pan (pen) and cook (write) with us someday!

About deniselanier

I am an educator & advocate, poet & performer, speaker & storyteller who believes in the power of narrative to transform & transport, create & connect. I was the shy, awkward girl who didn’t fit in, was often bullied, happiest with my nose in books, whose best friend was my dog. After being cast in a play in my teens I discovered a way to be comfortable in my own skin, bringing to life the words of a character. Costumed in make-believe I dared to be more of myself than I ever allowed off-stage; I claimed my voice. I spent most of my adult life teaching others to raise their own voices, through acting, creative writing, even slam poetry. When the diagnosis of MS intervened in my 30s I had to let go of acting, which is why most of my storytelling is now expressed through page and less “formal” interactions with stages. I devote much of my time to kids, teaching them to use words & imagination, developing authentic, resilient, remarkable voices. I endeavor to grow in my students the belief, the truth, that we are all artists & the change-makers in our own stories. My best friend still has fur & four legs. My mobility assistance dog is my constant companion, teaching assistant & muse to many. Luke is also chief partner in crime; I’m getting a reputation for stealing things. As inventor of a poetic form called klepto-collaborative, I pickpocket words & phrases from others, reshuffling & reshaping the puzzle-pieces into a colorful, storied mosaic of diverse voices. Taking something from every speaker at a conference in real-time, I craft a collective poem that highlights the messages of the day, repurposing ideas & refashioning stories, weaving them together in a manner that never loses the originality & spirit of the speakers’ themes. So while I may be a word thief, I figure being eco-conscious makes up for it. I’m available to facilitate wordy goodness in your community, school, workplace or play space. I like to think I have way of transforming annual meetings into something interactive, cooperative & memorable. Through my klepto-collaborative poems I aim to delight, to ignite conversation, and maybe even incite innovation. I earned an MFA from Florida International University, where I edited Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. I’m the founder of WordPlay, a poetry-in-the-schools project inspired by Dave Eggers. My poetry has appeared in Bloomsbury Review, Cake, Luna, Best American Poetry blog (a collaborative poem with the phenomenal Denise Duhamel), Wicked Good Life, and various anthologies. My non-fiction has appeared in the Miami Herald and my fiction has been nominated for Best New American Voices. www.deniselanier.wordpress.com & www.wonkybent.wordpress.com

4 responses »

  1. Thank you Denise for sharing your collaborative poem at TEDxTheWoodlands. It artistically wove fragments from the different speakers together into a braid. What a wonderfully creative performance.

    Peter Han


  2. Pingback: TEDxWomen Klepto-Collaborative Poem « WordPlay

  3. Pingback: Are You A Poet? « WordPlay

  4. Pingback: Trikes Are Poetic « Wonky Woman on a Bent Trike

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