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Q&A with spoken word performer Jorah LaFleur

Jorah LaFleur is known for her ease behind the microphone, performing her spoken word poems with confidence, grace, and enthusiasm. But how did she become a poet? And what keeps her inspired? 

Find out in this Q&A.

Q: What sparked you to become a writer and how did that journey begin?

Poetry has always seemed a necessary tool for having any hope of expressing myself accurately through the limitations of language. 

In other words, I had a lot of feels, and wrote in poetry from a young age. I was 17 the first time I ever memorized and performed a poem in front of a significantly-sized audience of my peers in a high-stakes environment (a shared IHS graduation assembly for two large high schools). It was scary, and natural. 

Q: What’s the earliest thing you remember writing?

Little rhyming poems in a locked diary. They were terrible, and important, and secret. I was probably 7.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of chocolate?

Very dark. 85% and above. More cacao, less sugar, please. 

Q: How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired as a person in the creative arts?

A combination of inner and outer promptings. Being involved with open mics, and live shows, keeps me in the rhythm of wanting to create new material to perform, and provides osmotic inspiration from witnessing other people sharing their talents. 

Q: What’s the biggest misconception people have about writing?

That you have to “be good at it” to be good at it. 

I have worked with many students who say that they hate writing, and aren’t skilled at it, who then produce beautifully raw and creative poems.

Q: What’s your go-to snack during a writing break?

Caffeine and almonds. 

Q: Are grammar rules meant to be broken, bent, or followed to a T?

Poetically, I believe in bending and breaking them dramatically–with consistency, playfulness, and purpose. 

Q: How do your life experiences shape the way you teach?

Being a performer, I feel a responsibility to be entertaining and engaging, and I think (hope) this factors into how I show up as an instructor.

Q: Describe your teaching philosophy – feel free to compare it to a book genre, movie genre, superhero, or a meal. 😉

My philosophy is: you are the expert on you. 

I want to support, supplement, enhance, and encourage, not dictate or direct what your creative voice sounds like. My intention is to pay deep attention to each individual and champion their specific evolution. 

Metaphorically, I want to be plant food, encouraging the natural growth processes innate and active in each of us.

Q: How do you foster a creative and inclusive classroom environment?

My experience running poetry slams and open mics has taught me that there is immense power in any group putting collective attention on one individual. By taking turns alternately holding space for each other, and allowing ourselves to be witnessed, we can make a lot of progress quickly. 

In the classroom, I use simple tools like sand timers to help ensure everyone in a group is given reasonably equal time to share, and that a space does not become dominated by the more naturally confident or extroverted among us. 

To foster creativity, I try to bring as much curiosity and playfulness to the table as possible. Nothing gets in my way more than getting too serious.  

Q: Are you a coffee or tea person while grading assignments?

There is no amount of caffeine in the world that will make me capable of grading creative assignments. That’s why I’m a teaching artist, not a classroom teacher ; ) Everyone gets gold stars, applause, and feedback. 

Q: What will students learn in your class?

In this class, students will work on translating words from the page to the stage through the vehicle of voice and body. We will work on developing the ability to read/perform with confidence. We will play, we will plan, we will practice, we will prepare.

Q: Who’s an ideal student to take your class?

This class is primarily designed for writers and wordsmiths (of all genres: poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction) who give public readings. It’s also open to arts administrators, lecturers, and other teachers or creatives who feel it will benefit them in their public speaking roles. All experience levels are welcome; each participant will have individual stage time to be supported in their personal growth trajectory. 

Q: What kind of support or resources do you provide your students? 

We will be working with a text: How to Read for an Audience: A Writer’s Guide, by James Navé and Allegra Huston, a short, power-packed little book full of great advice. The price of the book is included in the price of the class, and the text will be yours to keep. There will be light reading homework in between classes. In class we will support each other with real-time attention and audience feedback, and I will offer individual advice to each person based on their goals for themselves, and what I observe. 

Q: What do you love most about teaching?

The opportunity to support and witness growth. I am endlessly inspired by the courage that people tap into when they share their words aloud. 

Q: What’s one word you hope students will feel after completing your course?

Heard.

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