The Sounds of Jack Straw Writers

Sound is the focus for the Jack Straw Writers Program. For writers that would be our voices. We participated in voice and microphone coaching and had a performance workshop.

We learned:

  • how to use our voices optimally when reading our words
  • vocal exercises to warm up our voices before a performance, just as musicians warm up their instruments
  • thoughtful phrasing and pauses to allow the audience to hear and savor the words instead of running the words together like water from an open faucet
  • the importance of practicing and keeping to the allotted time for our readings in order to respect both the audience and other writers on the program.

The program offered us many opportunities to perform. The sounds of our voices and words in both poetry and prose found appreciative audiences all over Seattle and even in Portland.

Practicing excerpts from my memoir gave me another revision tool. I paid more attention to each word when I practiced aloud.  I could hear the wordiness, or when a stronger or more precise word was needed, or when shorter sentences would be more effective. While poets work with the sounds of words, this prose writer is still learning this important craft element: learning to listen to the sounds and rhythms of words.

For our final reading in November 2014, each of us was paired with a musician from The Bushwick Book Club, who had read the pieces in the 2014 Jack Straw Writers Anthology and then composed some music to represent the writing. We had no rehearsal and did not hear the music until the night of the performance. Each writer read a very brief excerpt before the musicians took the stage at Hugo House.

It was mind-blowing! Somehow the musicians had managed to capture the essence of each writer’s work. They were truly amazing! They do this year-round, interpreting published work, mostly well-known books and classics, into music.

I had never expected my words to inspire someone to write music. It was an honor to be a part of this creative endeavor–an honor and a thrill. The musician assigned to me happened to play the ukulele; Jon Yoon composed “Local Life” after reading my essay “Being Local.” I loved it! (Click on the link for “Local Life” to hear Jon’s song. It’s the 11th song on the audio track.)

Support local artists! Go to performances of writers, musicians, dancers, and actors.

As a writer, artist, and lover of performing arts, I will also continue to listen.