New York City-based poet Jeanann Verlee will perform as the special guest of Breaking Ground Poets at TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton on Saturday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10.
Jeanann Verlee’s poetry will make you feel something. Whether she’s digging into her past to present you with the archaeological finds of her painful and storied adolescence, or mining adulthood for those gems of reflection and realization, Verlee knows which relics to bring to the surface for examination. Here: the first broken heart, dressed in a pink Mohawk. Here: twenty years later and the heart wears more tattoos now. She will guide you along this tour, from small town to big city, from brash teen to humbled adult and even if you don’t share her experiences (and I venture to guess most of us don’t), you will be stunned and dazzled by her performer’s ability to draw you in and make you care, and really listen.
Verlee has represented New York City six times at the National Poetry Slam under two of the most highly-regarded poetry performance series in the nation: Urbana Poetry Slam and The louderARTS Project. Verlee was the highest-scoring individual poet at the 2008 National Poetry Slam Finals, was the 2009 NYC-Urbana iWPS Champion, and represented NYC-louderARTS at the 2010 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She is director of the Urbana Poetry Slam reading series in New York City, and serves as writing and performance coach for this three-time NPS Championship venue. She has performed and facilitated workshops at schools, theatres, bookstores, dive bars and poetry venues across North America. Her publication credits include The New York Quarterly, Rattle, failbetter, kill author, and PANK. Her work is included in the poetry anthologies Not A Muse: The Inner Lives of Women and His Rib: Poems Stories and Essays by Her. Verlee’s first full-length book of poems, Racing Hummingbirds, earned the Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medal in Poetry. Verlee won the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart. She is a poetry editor for Union Station Magazine and the Poets Portrait Project Anthology.
Verlee brings her entirely unique voice to the stage of TwentyFiveEight Studios this Saturday at 6 p.m. and Tunkhannock’s youth-oriented poetry club, Breaking Ground Poets, will play host for the evening. The Breaking Ground Poets worked with Verlee last year to help prepare them for the nation’s largest youth poetry event, Brave New Voices. Verlee came in and coached the students on their writing and their performance, and I got to partake as host to the workshop. Verlee wears that label of “slam poet,” so I remember feeling curious as to how she would coach the students. I thought, “How does New York City slam poetry work together with Tunkhannock High School performance poetry? Where do those voices intersect?” and Jeanann did not disappoint, working with the students to find their authentic voices and best selves. I remember her one bit of advice, both for poetry and the prose of everyday life. Helping a student through a volatile, loud piece, Verlee offered, “Read me that poem again but say it to me in a whisper. Sometimes our anger is more powerful when we get quiet with it.”
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She is a tornado.
He is a man. He is solid and humble.
She tells the story three times, convinced
he does not understand. He is trying.
The story is about an elephant and a mermaid.
No, the story is about a millipede in a thicket of roses,
a prized buckskin horse and fifty lashes.
She is talking gibberish. He is trying to understand but she
is thunderbolt. Her tongue, a spear.
The dog is hiding in the back corner of a dark room.
The man wants to sit with the dog. She is melting.
Her face pools in her lap. Freckles pile at her feet.
There is nothing in the room that has not been hurled.
She is science like this. An atom, separating.
Finally, the story comes, like flood. Its mud seeps in from under the doorjambs, rising. They are standing ankle deep in water and sludge. He understands now.
He is a spiced wound. He wants firearms. Hit-men. A brutal justice.
All the while, the window is sitting with its mouth open,
spilling their hot storm into the courtyard,
where the neighbors have come to their sills, elbows propped, hungry
— Jeanann Verlee, from Racing Hummingbirds (“The Telling” is available via Kindle sample at amazon.com.)