Arts and Entertainment

Brave New Words welcomes Seattle poet to Whidbey Island

Poet Matt Gano said he tries to teach teenage poets how to feel the words of a poem in their bodies.  - Jacob K. Clifford photo
Poet Matt Gano said he tries to teach teenage poets how to feel the words of a poem in their bodies.
— image credit: Jacob K. Clifford photo

Matt Gano dances.

Poetry is his choreographer, his body relinquished to the power of words. Language moves him as if the words were marked from the child he was, the teenager he knows on the street, the ideas whose praises he sings. Watch him on YouTube and one gets the sense that the words he chooses live in his body.

Gano comes to the island on Saturday, Sept. 18 to teach poetry and to perform. He’ll conduct a free workshop for teens at South Whidbey Commons Bookstore Coffeehouse in Langley from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Later that day, Gano will perform at 7 p.m. at the Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm. The event is sponsored by Brave New Words Presents, led by the literary hand of Victory Lee Schouten.

“Matt is a really fine poet, he comes from his heart and audiences really respond,” Schouten said. “And he is a really exciting performer. If you think poetry is boring, this is the event to change your mind.”

Gano is a poet, lyricist and performance artist. The Seattle resident is a three-time member of the National Poetry Slam team of Seattle, and 2008’s Seattle Poetry Slam Grand Slam Champion, no small feat in a city of spoken-word aficionados. Gano sits securely atop the list of nationally and internationally known spoken word artists.

But he is also a link between generations of poets.

In teaching young poets, he gathers his own reward.

“Poetry is something I needed when I was their age,” Gano said.

“I’m fully in touch media-wise and culturally, so I can help to create that space for making them feel comfortable to write.”

As an artist-in-residence at Seattle’s Center School, an arts-focused high school, Gano teaches in the Writers in the Schools program sponsored by Seattle Arts and Lectures. He also teaches creative writing at Ingraham High School in Seattle, and is a writing mentor for the Youth Speaks Seattle Writing Circle. He has taught creative writing in Seoul, Korea, and in 2009 was awarded a three-month artist residency at the Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity in Hong Kong.

“It’s a great feeling to have kids engaged, getting into it, try it and be successful. It’s good to see that transformation,” he added.

As an artist, Gano’s published works include the chapbooks “Bones for the Builder” and “Music Maker,” but he didn’t always know that poetry and teaching were his thing.

The 30-year-old remembers a moment when he was 18 and writing hip hop lyrics in his living room.

“I just sat down and wrote this poem that was 16 notebook pages long,” Gano recalled.

“It was this 40-minute free write, and it was that moment that I realized that it was bigger than just writing lyrics. That it was poetry.”

It was an epiphany, and Gano has been a serious poet since.

Having come out of a place that started musically, getting into the hip hop scene and writing songs was what connected Gano to the musicality of poetry, he said. The idea that his body is never still when he’s performing, that there’s a certain amount of emotional movement that comes directly out of the words, is something he strives to share with his students.

“One of the things I touch on is that poetry is an experience of the body, that emotions come out of the body and that that is the way it is with words,” Gano said.

It’s the emotive and expressive forms of creative writing on which he focuses, which is naturally followed by the rhythms and musicality of sounds.

See clips of Gano performing and read more about him — click here.

Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Any donations made will go to fund future Brave New Words poetry events.

For more information call, 331-7099 or e-mail

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