Monday, December 9, 2013

Creative Style Prose: Spoken-Word Poetry

            The spoken word poem “Remember How We Forgot” is a poem that appears on the award-winning Canadian writer, poet, and performer Shane Kocyzan’s compilation titled The Short Story Long.   In 2000, Shane Kocyzan was crowned the very first Canadian to win the number one spot at the National Poetry Slam.  He has written and published three books.  His books were named Best Books of The Year in 2005 on the Guardian and Globe as well as Mail.  In 2012, he came out with a digital album of written works titled Remembrance Year in combination with the digital album titled A Short Story Long.
            In February of 2013 he appeared on a TED Talk Conference with his spoken word poem titled “To This Day.”  The poem discusses the lifelong effects of bullying on individuals who experience it, including Kocyzan, himself.  Kocyzan has received over ten million hits on many of his spoken word poems on his digital album.  “Remember How We Forgot” is among Kocyzan’s spoken word poems that can be found on YouTube.  The work appears on The Short Story Long and has received nearly a million views on YouTube to date. 
            “Remember How We Forgot” is quite a long poem.  When physically written out in its poem form, it is just over two pages long.  There are many creative rhetorical devices that are used in this poem that make the work as powerful as it is.  To begin to analyze the work based on its use of rhetoric, one can begin with the title itself.  Remember How We Forgot, both a rhetorical question and an oxymoron is an attention grabber that gives the listener a sense of wonder as to what exactly is supposed to be remembered that has been forgotten.  Following Remember How We Forgot is another rhetorical question, “remember how nobody really died in wars fought?” This is also an example of assonance, repeating of stressed vowel sounds.  Following this is “because each gunshot came from our fingertips”.  Here the author uses imagery to take us back to childhood.  To get the reader to begin to understand where he’s going with the title “Remember How We Forgot.”
            Following the rhetorical devices discussed above, the author begins to use a great deal of the scheme repetition.  In the below text taken from the poem, the word remember is used three times as a key word from the preceding clause, which is indicative of conduplicatio.  The author begins by comparing bending reality with circus strong men, which is an example of a simile.  The author then emphasizes his simile with anaphora, with the clause “like our imaginations were in shape then”, which is an example of personification.  Followed by a third like, again using anaphora, as well as imagery to take the reader back to being a little boy.  The author then uses the rhetorical question, remember how we forgot once again.  Another example of anaphora but with the second use of “remember how”, which is an example of amplification.  The author uses several instances of amplification exemplified in the examples below.  This use of repetition is for added emphasis on the parts of the poem that he wants readers to recognize as most significant.

Remember how we used to bend reality 
Like we were circus strong men
Like our imaginations were in shape then
Like we were all ninjas trained in the deadly art of "did not". 
Like "I totally got you"
"Did not"
Remember how we forgot?
Remember how our parents told us never to look directly into the sun.
Remember how we forgot?
Remember how we all caught mono and out folks would go, "oh the kissing disease"
Even though we’ve never really kissed anyone
Even though we never did half the things we said we’d done
Somehow we overcame
Somehow we pushed on
Somehow we’ve gone the distance
Test the limits 
Test the boundaries and borders 
Let us go the distance once more
Let us remember all the moments that were and were not
Like each moment inspires the next 
Like memories are the context we put ourselves in
Let us live like we meant it
Let us burn like we mean it

            The text below, also taken from the poem, is an example of climax.  The text begins with: “our dreams hung like apples”, an example of a simile, followed by an example of imagery “waiting to picked and peeled.”  The text then uses the analogy “we figure skated on thin ice” to demonstrate taking chances, followed by another analogy: “each slice of life was something sweet on the side.”  Personification is then used in the following clause: “we supplied the determination to make ideas and goals the parents of possibility.”  Akin and related is a pun for the actual definition of akin, which is being close in relation, while kin is an actual familial relation.  The author expands on the metaphor of family again, with his use of “members of this family”, “not just one branch on one tree, but a forest whose roots make up a dynasty.”  The author builds and builds in this passage until finally ending on a hyperbole using the word “dynasty” as a trope for emphasizing the oneness of humanity by discussing each individual person, first, as separation of one branch on a tree with a forest which makes up a “dynasty.”  The author also uses amplification in this instance, coupled with climax when the poem hits the word “dynasty.”

Once upon a time, we were young.
Our dreams hung like apples 
Waiting to be picked and peeled
And hope was something that needed to be reeled-in
So we can fill the always empty big fish bin with the one that got away
And proudly say that "this time, impossible is not an option"
Because success is so akin to effort and opportunity that it could be related
So we took chances 
We figure skated on thin ice
Belief that each slice of live was served with something sweet on the side
And failure was never nearly as important as the fact that we tried
That in the war against frailty and limitation 
We supplied the determination it takes to make ideas and goals the parents of possibility
And we believe ourselves to be members of this family
Not just one branch on one tree 
But a forest whose roots make up a dynasty

To further expand on this written work, analyzing the text’s intended audience gives greater significance to meaning as Koyczan expresses it within this work through creative prose.  Evidence of Koyczan’s intended audience is first represented in the title of the work itself and is reinforced through repetition throughout the entire work.  “We” broadly represents all of humanity.  It would be a generalization to say that Koyczan is referring to everyone, entirely, because not everyone has forgotten what he is describing in the text.  Additionally, not every person would be able to relate to the text, necessarily, yet Koyczan is trying to generate the widest audience possible through his use of the word we as an opener in general.  Using we as a word choice invites anyone reading or listening to the text to be a part of Koyczan’s intended audience. 
Analyzing the text based on its background, that is, who wrote it and for what purpose gives greater insight into a narrower intended audience. Koyczan, a victim of childhood bullying and an advocate for a bully-free society is narrowing in on those who may have forgotten the novelties of simply being human, living, and existing.  Either through the experience of being bullied or through the process of growing older.  As the intended audience is likely, in part, those who have been victims of bullying as individuals, as mentioned, Koyczan tries to enable those who may have lost some of their self-respect and self-efficacy due to the traumas of bullying to also remember [the narrative outlined in the poem].  The entire work is meant to inspire hope in its audience, which is concretely why we is likely, in part, those, that like Shawn Koyczan, have experienced the difficult wrath of bullying. 
Despite this text seeming to most importantly be to inspire hope in one who may need inspiration, namely, one having been a victim of bullying, there is one clause that connects to many other ideas in the text that signifies a much wider audience than just victims of bullying.  While some of Kocyzan’s other poems are meant to give voice to those without a voice, that is, victims of bullying, this particular poem is likely speaking to a much wider audience.  The following independent clause within the text gives light to this idea: “And when I ask you to remember, it’s because the future isn't what it used to be.”  This is directly talking to individuals in adulthood or at the very least, teenagers, who have learned that the future is not what it originally appeared to be during childhood.  This is signified in the preceding passage to the one just mentioned: “remember when we wanted to be Firemen? A time we now call "back then", when boys wanted to be Astronauts or superheroes. Those days when girls wanted to be Prime-ministers or princesses.” This is not only speaking to how our dreams or life goals shift as we age and recognize life from a much different, more realistic perspective, but also gives light to growing older as we internalize gender roles: “those days when girls wanted to be prime-ministers…” This passage gives insight into the “tom-boy” phenomenon girls often experience (not always) in childhood. 
It is at these stages in life that we realize the inevitabilities of life. And it is in childhood that we have the greatest sense of imagination and hope.  There are several parts within the text that talk about larger, “big picture” ideas.  Like wars, tragedy, and the reality of the lifecycle.  Each person encounters at least one of these obstacles by just being a part of the human experience.  These few passages really signify the intended audience.  The rest of the text just extends on this idea, “we figure skated on thin ice”, which represents how we took chances so freely as children---a sense of omnipotence.  The following also represents how our paradigm shifts as we grow older: “believed that each slice of life was served with something sweet on the side.”  The use of past tense, “believed” states a passing of this belief.  The succession of clauses to follow show an intense drive for defeating what we deemed to be the impossible, the connectedness we felt with others, and seeing “dreams and goals [as] the parents of possibility.”  All of these clauses represent a strong sense of inspiration, hope, and ambition for life, yet they also imply that these feelings have passed.  These few examples, and there are several more, coupled with the use of “we” in the title in addition to the repetition of the use of “we” in the same format as the title using anaphora, keep the use of we consistent and repeat the thought to the large, intended audience with each new clause.  This written works’ intended audience is humanity as we age.  It is growing older and the passing of hope. 
The core point of the message in the text is the renewal of hope by remembering what we have forgotten.  Finally, the end of the text shifts completely to a new a paradigm altogether.  The text asks the audience to now forget remembering “how we forgot.”  The succession of asking the audience to “remember how we forgot” and then abruptly asking the audience to forget remembering is asking the audience to now come into the present.  The core philosophy Koyczan’s wants the audience to grasp is each individuals’ inner “light” or individual greatness.  “The memories we are amassing will stand as testament that somehow we bend minds around the concept that we see others within ourselves”, this clause points to seeing our dreams fulfilled through others. The following clause, “that self-knowledge can be found on bookshelves, so who we are has no bearing on how we appear” is either a biblical reference to understanding ourselves from a biblical perspective already foretold or, simply, that one should not try to understand oneself based on looks. 
This likely is referencing accepting oneself on the basis of what we look like.  Kocyzan may purposely align “self-knowledge can be found on bookshelves, so who we are has no bearing on how we appear” to take the focus off of individuals looking to their image to understand themselves.  Expanding on this idea, Kocyzan is likely trying to shift the paradigm of those bullied based on their physical appearance—another example of how this text is in part, perhaps meant to renew hope or manifest a shift in paradigm to victims of bullying.  Lastly, the last passage shifting from the past to the present “forget remembering how we forgot” is indicative of an immediate call for action. 

Forget remembering how we forgot
Live like a plot twist exist now and in memory
Because we burn bright
Our lights leave scars on the sun
Let no one say we'll be undone by times passing
The memories we are amassing will stand as testament
That somehow we bend minds around the concept
that we see others within ourselves.
That self-knowledge can be found on bookshelves
So who we are has no bearing on how we appear
Look directly into every mirror
Realize our reflection is the first sentence to a story
And our story starts:
"We were here.”

Overall, the author’s use of repetition is meant to lead up to his main idea, that being, “we were here”, despite the cycle of life.  All of it builds in an exciting way that enables the reader to keep reading to find out where the author is going to end up.  With that said, the use of simple creative rhetorical devices, that is, amplification, rhetorical questions, personification, hyperbole, assonance, pun, and climax makes this written work both playful, yet serious.  It takes one back to childhood, yet identifies a certain generation with its use of eponym “we just spun yarn like Rumpelstiltskin spun gold”.  According to the TED Talk Kocyzan was featured on, The Short Story Long as a compilation is meant to especially inspire those ridiculed by bullying and the lasting effects bullying can have on people as they grow from children into adulthood.  Koyczan, a victim of bullying himself, uses creative rhetoric to shed light on the bigger themes of life that can sometimes be forgotten if we don’t remember how we forgot.
Kocyzan may have indirectly stated many of these ideas to allow individual interpretation and not force-feed individuals listening to his message an idea, but letting them interpret the text from their own perspective.  This idea as a whole outlines much of the point of creative works, especially poetry, and what divides creative prose from the other styles of rhetoric, official and plain, because quite literally, interpretation is up to the audience when it comes to creative prose.  While there may be an official “right answer” to what certain creative prose in poetry means, often, again, artists want to leave interpretation up to the audience to allow freedom of interpretation. 
By: Courtney Joslin

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