Readings and Workshops at Kaneko for ‘feedback’ series

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January 16th, 2018

Omaha, NE—Presented by Kaneko and The Nebraska Writer’s Collective, the feedback Series aims to enliven the conversation about writing through readings and workshops. This Thursday at Kaneko, poets Nate Marshall from Chicago as well as Gina Keplinger and Ben Wenzl based here in Nebraska will perform.

Keplinger holds a BA in English from UNL, and she’s currently on track for a PHD. She fell in love poetry at the age of 16 after seeing slam poetry at the Om center in Omaha and the documentary film, Louder than a Bomb about the Chicago slam competition of the same name. When local poet and organizer Matt Mason announced that the competition was coming to Omaha, Keplinger wanted in.

“And I approached him after a poetry slam and said, ‘Sign me up, I want to be involved in this,” Keplinger said. “He said something to the effect of great, what school do you teach at, and I said, ‘No I’m a student. I’m a junior in high school, and so for months, people at the Omaha poetry slams had thought that I was an adult competing. I got a poetry slam team started at my school and that first year we won the competition.”

Since slam has gained popularity, its performative elements have begun to influence main stream academic poetry. Keplinger got her start in slam, but her work has since taken a turn back to the written word.

“For me, slam poetry is theatrical. It’s performative. It’s loud. It’s in your face. There are elements of choreography and complicated moments of group work where you can read poems in a kind of a choral fashion with other poets on stage at the same time. I love those elements—those theatrical elements of slam. I have transitioned more into page poetry, but those moments of theater and those moments of drama absolutely still come out when I do readings, like at feedback, and I think that that’s what makes poetry fun for me is those elements that make the poem come to life performatively, so you get the art on the page but also the experience of a real life human reading in honest and true and sometimes funny and heartbreaking ways.”

Keplinger had put writing aside for a while, focusing on collegiate work, but she’s back with new themes and a new voice.

“At the feedback series, I will be reading a whole bunch of new stuff, and it’s really a collection of poems that has scared me and has excited me and has brought me a lot of joy and anxiety. I’m writing a lot more about women and the experience of being a woman, violence against women, having a female body and what that means, dealing with mental illness, dealing with family members’ mental illness, relationships which are not ending but continuing, love poetry. It’s a series of pieces that I think are maybe the first segment of real growth I’ve had as a writer in a long time. I felt sort of stagnant in my poetry I think.”

Poet Ben Wenzl also had a knack for slam, having won Omaha City Slam three times, and for him, poetry and performance serves as a therapeutic practice.

“My earliest stuff like, when I was eighteen, when I first started slamming,” Wenzl said, “was all about being gay, coming to terms with being queer. Then as I got older and was like, there’s some mental illness going on here. That work has been the most successful, and I’m really lucky that the poem that’s done the best on line is a poem about mental illness. It’s always scary, because you don’t really know—don’t read the comments or whatever they say, but all the comments were really like holding your hand, kind of like a ‘me too,’ and I’m glad that other people are putting a voice to mental illness.”

Poets Gina Keplinger, Ben Wenzl and Nate Marshall will perform at Kaneko this Thursday, Jan. 18 at 7:00 to 9:00pm as part of the feedback series. There will be a free writing workshop on Saturday the 20 from 11:30am to 1:30pm. For more information, visit theKaneko.org.

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